Website issues creating additional hurdles for citizen initiatives

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Capitol News Service) - New restrictions were put on petition gatherers earlier this year, including a requirement they register with the Department of State, but the registration page on the agency’s website has been down for nearly a week.

Online registration for petitions for ballot initiatives is down. (MGN)

The state reports it’s working to get the site back online.

The law was widely opposed by those who have worked to put initiatives on the ballot like Aliki Moncrief with the Florida Conservation Voters.

“If this law had been in place when we were trying to get signatures to put water and land funding on the ballot, I don't think we would have made it,” said Moncrief.

Moncrief said because the registration site has been brought down for maintenance it’s created another hurdle for paid petition gatherers.

The Department of State said the maintenance is due in part to the short time frame it was given to develop the site.

“The petition process is important, and we are doing everything in our means to ensure the process continues as smoothly as possible. The Department of State is aware that there are operational issues with the Division of Elections Paid Petition Circulator website. We do not have any reason to believe that these operational issues are the result of external system intrusions,” said Secretary of State Laurel Lee in an email statement.

Even before the site went down there were numerous reports of the site not working properly.

“If they're going to pass a terrible bill like this, at the least the system can be operational on day one,” said Moncrief.

Some groups have suggested it’s intentional, but Representative James Grant, who originally sponsored the legislation, denies those allegations.

“I don't think anyone had an intent or even an expectation that some of the antiquated servers and challenges would lead to this problem, but I can promise you that both the Secretary and I are committed to making sure we get it right,” said Grant.

Moncrief said intentional or not, lawmakers should have had more foresight.

“Before lawmakers press the button and make a bill effective, perhaps they should do some planning to make sure that we don't run across problems like this,” said Moncrief.

Representative Grant said in addition to the website, he’s concerned some are intentionally disobeying the registration requirements.

He said he’s hyper focused on addressing both issues.

The Department of State says it contacted sponsors of ballot initiatives to inform them of alternative ways to register, but when we asked for an explanation of what those alternatives are, we didn’t receive a response.