A woman joins hundreds gathering for an abortion rights rally outside the Duval County Courthouse on June 24, 2022. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today.A woman joins hundreds gathering for an abortion rights rally outside the Duval County Courthouse on June 24, 2022. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today.
A woman joins hundreds gathering for an abortion rights rally outside the Duval County Courthouse on June 24, 2022. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today.

Democrats could benefit from abortion and marijuana votes

Published on April 2, 2024 at 10:46 am

Decisions by Florida’s Supreme Court allowing voters to decide whether to prohibit the state government from setting limits on abortion rights and legalize recreational marijuana will supercharge November’s upcoming election.

Important questions about who benefits the most — and how each political party will strategize on the issues — were already playing out, just hours after the momentous decisions by the court on Monday. Former President Donald Trump was mysteriously silent on the issue after the rulings.

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“Florida is in play,” Nikki Fried, the state chair of the Democratic Party, wrote in a social media post. 

Justices approved the ballot initiatives for abortion rights and marijuana, decisions that could undermine Republican efforts on the issues so far. Those important issues were widely expected to boost turnout among voters who feel strongly about both matters. 

The abortion issue could be motivating for suburban women, a key voting group. The marijuana issue could boost turnout among young voters, who traditionally skew toward Democrats. 

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In a victory for Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republicans, the court also ruled 6-1 Monday that privacy rights spelled out in Florida’s constitution do not conflict with an abortion ban imposed by the Legislature and signed by the governor for women pregnant more than 15 weeks. The justices noted that their ruling also will allow a newer Florida ban on abortions after six weeks — one of the strictest bans in the U.S. — to take effect in 30 days.

But the ballot decisions from the court mean that, in November, voters could roll back the new limits on abortions in Florida just months after they take effect. They also could legalize marijuana in the Sunshine State beyond medical use.

Democrats predicted they would benefit most, after Republicans trounced them here in the 2022 elections and the GOP has maintained an edge on the numbers of registered voters. Lower than expected turnout, especially in South Florida, hurt Democrats during the midterms and helped DeSantis win reelection by the largest margin in 40 years.

Nationally, Democrats said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning abortion rights protections limited expectations of a red wave of Republican election victories in 2022 outside Florida. 

“Our private medical decisions are none of the government’s business,” said Lauren Book, the Senate Democratic leader. “Our freedom is on the line, and the situation has never been more urgent.”

The Republican political strategist Ana Violeta Navarro-Cárdenas said the dual policy issues on abortion rights and marijuana were each important: “Collectively, they could be game-changers,” she said.

“FL just got far more competitive,” she added. 

A former Republican consultant, Rick Wilson of Tallahassee, said Republicans will need to spend more money to win results in the state: “Florida just got a lot more expensive for the GOP,” he said.

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, the former U.S. House member running against Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said the six-week abortion ban was dangerous and that it bans abortions before most women even know they are pregnant. “This November reproductive rights are on the ballot,” she said. 

The House speaker, Rep. Paul Renner, spelled out how Republicans will urge voters to keep Florida’s tough abortion limits in place. Renner said the GOP will present the abortion ballot initiative as one that would “legalize full-term abortion for any reason.”

“We are confident that when the people of Florida learn what this amendment does, they will vote no,” Renner wrote on social media.

Florida’s Republican attorney general, Ashley Moody, said the two ballot initiatives will be confusing to voters. “We maintain that it will be an uphill battle to educate them,” she said. 

The state’s deputy solicitor general made the same argument to justices in February during oral arguments in the case in Tallahassee. Chief Justice Carlos Muñiz shot down the argument during that hearing, saying, “The people of Florida aren’t stupid; they can figure this out.” 

The political fight was already underway: The campaign director for the group that pushed for the abortion rights initiative, Lauren Brenzel, said early warnings from Republicans that it would allow for very late term abortions was “an absolutely ludicrous claim.” 

The language on the ballot said voting yes would prohibit any law that would prohibit, penalize, delay or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s health. 

This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at  serrasowers@freshtakeflorida.com . You can donate to support the students here.

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