A network of out-of-state political consultants, secret donors and activists with close ties to President Trump is behind an effort to change the Florida constitution to explicitly state that only citizens may vote in elections, a measure that would amplify the issue of immigration in the 2020 battleground state.
In recent months, organizers said they have collected nearly twice the signatures needed to qualify for the ballot next year — and more than any other ballot initiative in Florida state history, they said.
The exact legal effect the amendment would have remains unclear. While federal law explicitly bars noncitizen voting, the language in the Florida constitution — like that of many states — says that “every” citizen who is 18 may vote. The proposed amendment would change the language to say “only” a citizen may vote.
Supporters of the amendment said the current phrasing is vague and leaves the door open to laws allowing noncitizens to cast ballots in local elections, now permitted in about a dozen jurisdictions around the country. No such proposals have surfaced in Florida.
A campaign focused on the risk of noncitizen voting could appeal to conservatives and alarm immigrants — a possible boost for Trump, who has made immigration enforcement a centerpiece of his reelection bid, political analysts said.
“This is clearly a very mobilizing issue in Florida,” said Susan MacManus, a politics professor emeritus with the University of South Florida.
“Clearly, the purpose is not only making a statement about immigration, but to turn out the vote of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters,” she added.
Organizers denied that the effort is intended to drive up conservative turnout but acknowledged the measure could work to Trump’s benefit by forcing Democratic candidates to say whether they support noncitizen voting in local elections.
The initiative is being publicly championed by a West Palm Beach couple who are members of the president’s private club and have been associated with Trump’s political operation.
But an examination of the ballot measure campaign found it is being driven by a veteran GOP political consultant based in Arizona who said he has plans to expand the effort to at least a dozen other states in time for the 2020 elections — many of which are key Senate battlegrounds.