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Florida passed this year’s weirdest ballot initiative: a ban on vaping and offshore drilling

The unlikely combination of drilling and vaping was bundled into one amendment.

A woman enjoys an e-cigarette in Miami, Florida, where indoor vaping may soon be banned in workplaces.
Getty Images

In Florida on Tuesday, voters decided to ban oil drilling and indoor vaping — together, in the same referendum.

Yes, you read that right.

Florida Amendment 9 was a strange but very real ballot initiative that bundled together two completely unrelated issues. With support of more than 60 percent of voters, the amendment passed and will revise the state constitution to prohibit both offshore oil and gas drilling and the use of e-cigarettes in indoor workplaces.

Separately, the measures seemed reasonable enough. E-cigarette use has exploded in every state the US, and several states have already moved ahead with indoor vaping bans like the one in Amendment 9. Public health experts are generally in favor of these bans (though evidence on the health impact of second-hand vapor is still lacking).

Florida also has existing regulations to limit offshore drilling. But enshrining a ban in the state constitution would more permanently protect the state’s coasts and wildlife as well as its tourism industry from the risks associated with oil and gas extraction.

The odd coupling was justified by proponents as an “environmental amendment.” “The issues together send a message of clean air, clean water,” Lisa Carlton, a former Florida senator and author of the proposal to curb the use of e-cigarettes, told Grist.

Yet, as University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus told the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “It makes no sense to the average voter why they were put together.”

Views of Miami.
De Agostini via Getty Images

Whether or not Florida Amendment 9 is logical, it’s definitely legal. As Grist’s Justine Calma reported, Florida is the only state that has a commission — the Constitution Revision Commission — which suggests constitutional changes. They meet every 20 years and have the power to “bundle” numerous constitutional changes into single amendment ballot initiatives.

The argument for bundling, in addition to the commission’s view that the issues are of the same kind, is that it streamlines the ballot. This year, the commission exercised that right in one of a dozen constitutional amendments voters will decide on this election.

Ahead of the vote, an analysis of six local newspapers’ stance on Amendment 9, in Florida Today, found that several editorial boards supported the measures but cited philosophical objections to deciding on disparate issues with a single vote.

But Florida voters didn’t appear to be bothered. Just after 9 pm Eastern time, with 80 percent of precincts reporting, 68 percent of voters had signed off on the initiative (and only 60 percent needed to vote yes to pass the amendment). So the strange ballot bundling must have resonated.

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