Bill Nelson: Tallahassee edict on absentee ballots is voter suppression
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson on Tuesday attacked a new state directive restricting what locations could be used as absentee ballot drop-off sites as an attempt at voter suppression and said his office is reaching out to the U.S. Justice Department about whether the move violates federal voting laws.
On Nov. 25, Gov. Rick Scott's top elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, announced that county elections supervisors "should not solicit return of absentee ballots at any place other than a supervisor's office."
The directive surprised county elections supervisors, who weren't consulted ahead of time.
"It's ridiculous," said Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer, who spoke to reporters with Nelson. "I was flabbergasted. This is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist."
On Monday, Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark's office said she will continue to use remote drop-off sites so that voters can return their absentee ballots in the upcoming special election for the congressional seat opened by the death of C.W. Bill Young.
Latimer, a Democrat, said he applauds the decision from Clark, a Republican.
"If I had an election coming up tomorrow or next week, I would be right there with Deb Clark," Latimer said. "I wouldn't be closing those sites down. They are secure. They are safe."
Noting that the state announced the change shortly before the special election in Pinellas, Nelson said he has asked his staff to contact Justice Department officials about whether the directive violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 or the Help America Vote Act of 2002.
"I believe there are federal issues of voting rights that attach to this," said Nelson, who doubted that the state's restriction would be upheld in court. "The timing is extraordinary, and the legal justification is specious."
Last year, Latimer used 13 public libraries as sites where voters could drop off absentee ballots. At each, voters placed their ballots in locked and sealed ballot boxes under the supervision of his staff. Losing those sites, he said, "would be a great loss to the people in our community." Voters living in the most remote corners of Hillsborough would have to drive more than 40 miles to drop off an absentee ballot at an elections office.