8 On Your Side Investigates discovered only two people filed election fraud complaints about petition activities in two years, according to the Florida Department of State.
So why did a controversial bill that changes the amendment process just pass?
“I think we’ve actually empowered legitimate, well-defined and transparent constitutional amendment provisions,” said State Representative James Grant.
Grant, a Republican who represents parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, sponsored the bill that is set to make significant modifications to how citizens can petition the state for change.
The changes include banning payment based on the number of petitions collected. State officials will also be required to better track petition gatherers.
“The more we create transparency and accountability to exactly what a constitutional amendment is, the more we minimize the legislature’s ability to come in and meddle with it,” said Grant.
In recent years, Florida voters have legalized medical marijuana, restored voting rights to felons and banned offshore oil drilling using the referendum process.
To investigate whether the new rules will restrict rights or safeguard the constitution, 8 On Your Side asked the Department of State about the number of complaints filed about the petition process in a span of two years.
Under Florida law, the department has authority to accept and preliminary investigate such complaints.
According to official documents, there were three complaints filed by two people in 2017 and 2018 across the entire state.
In April, 8 On Your Side asked Grant whether he had evidence of fraud in the petition process.
“To the extent that our constitution is vulnerable and open, I don’t need to have evidence of fraud,” he said.
“I don’t need to have another attack on the integrity of our elections.”
Grant is referring to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
In May, after receiving the new data, 8 On Your Side investigative reporter Mahsa Saeidi asked Grant, “if you’re making a new law, isn’t the first step to fully research it?”
Grant responded “Well, yes and I did.”
“I think the difference that I would make or the distinction that I would make is where there’s a clear and open vulnerability, that is research.”
The representative said the mere idea that the system is vulnerable is what matters so he didn’t look into the specific number of complaints.
“If there’s one complaint of serious fraud, I’m already hair on fire to go to battle to protect our constitution,” Grant said.
He also said that before his bill, there was no framework or oversight of this process.
“We don’t have any insight into who is collecting the petitions, when they’re turned in, whether or not they’re accurate,” said Grant.
Meanwhile, the department did find the three complaints merit further investigation.
The complaints were referred to state prosecutors.
8 On Your Side has reached out to the State Attorney for the 6th Judicial Circuit to get an update on the case.
“We know that there has been some complaint of fraud,” said Grant. “We do know that it’s a statewide problem, we do know that in Broward County there were dead people signing constitutional provisions.”