Computer glitch resulted in shortage of signatures on petitions for referendum; opponents pledge to keep trying to meet deadline
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. A gay marriage ban and several other citizen initiatives were short of the signatures needed to get on the November ballot Monday, Jan. 14, with just two weeks left before the Feb. 1 petition-gathering deadline.
That announcement came on the heels of word out of California that signature-gathering efforts aimed at repealing a measure adding sexual orientation to that state’s law against discrimination and harassment in public schools.
Sponsors of the single-gender marriage prohibition in Florida announced a month ago that they had met the 611,009 signature requirement. But updated numbers issued by the state showed the proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution was still 21,989 signatures short.
That’s because Miami-Dade County election officials last week discovered they had submitted duplicate signature reports, said Department of State spokesman Sterling Ivey.
Secretary of State Kurt Browning last week abandoned an electronic system for reporting signature verifications because of glitches that included duplicating petitions and directed county election officials to go back to paper.
“It’s a very unfortunate situation, but we’re not going to cast any blame,” said John Stemberger, an Orlando lawyer who heads a coalition backing the gay marriage ban. “We certainly are going to make every effort possible to correct this.”
That means Florida4Marriage.org will restart its petition campaign. It has relied entirely on volunteers rather than hiring paid signature gatherers, Stemberger said.
He said appeals will go out to organizations that helped in the drive, including Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council and American Family Association, to collect more signatures.
The sponsors must submit them to county election officials for verification. The results then will be forwarded to the Department of State’s Division of Elections.
“We’re just praying that they are able to process all the signatures that come in before Feb. 1,” Stemberger said.
If the measure gets on the ballot, it is expected to pit gay communities in South Florida and other urban areas against the proposal’s Bible Belt supporters.
“Signatures or not, the Human Rights Campaign will continue to mobilize volunteers and give them the tools they need to educate voters on this harmful amendment,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C.
Solmonese said the amendment would needlessly write discrimination into the state constitution. A state law already bans single-gender marriage, but supporters say an amendment is needed to prevent courts from overturning the statute.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 18, 2008