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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Detzner's directive on absentee ballots sets off spirited debate

26

November

Secretary of State Ken Detzner's directive to election supervisors on the return of absentee ballots has set off a fierce debate with some of them criticizing Detzner's action and others coming to his defense.

Detzner issued an order to supervisors Monday, telling them they "should not solicit return of absentee ballots at any place other than a supervisor's office." The directive appeared to take dead aim at one supervisor, Deborah Clark in Pinellas, who aggressively promotes voting absentee and has a small network of remote drop-off locations to make it easier for people to turn in their absentee ballots. (Clark may formally respond to Detzner's order Wednesday).

The state's order comes as Clark prepares to send thousands of absentee ballots to voters in the upcoming special election in the 13th Congressional district. Inside absentee ballot envelopes, Clark reminds voters in all caps about MAIL BALLOT DROPOFF LOCATIONS and that "an election employee will be at each site to assist and hand out 'I VOTED' stickers."

"Pathetic," said Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley about Detzner's action, which he said seemed directed squarely at Clark. "The timing stinks right here."

Detzner in effect said Clark was breaking the law. He issued a statement Tuesday: "It is my duty and responsibility to provide uniformity for the statewide implementation of elections. The directive issued does not change anything in the law, but is a clarification of existing law that was initiated by questions from supervisors of elections that prompted us to address this on a statewide level.”

The Times/Herald asked who sought the clarification. The state sent us an email from Corley from September after spotting new language in the 2014 state voter registration guide. The response came from assistant director Gary Holland in the Division of Elections: "A voter may only turn in an absentee ballot at an early voting site if the early voting site is a (supervisor's) office or when the voter wants to vote early and not cast the absentee ballot (at which time, per s. 101.69, {Florida Statutes}, the voter returns the absentee ballot and it is marked “canceled”). Corley was mystified, because voters have been dropping off absentee ballots at early voting sites for years.

In other developments, Election supervisors Brenda Snipes in Broward and Jerry Holland in Duval said they had no problem with Detzner's directive. Snipes said she has never used remote drop-off sites for absentee ballots in Broward: "It's not allowed," she said.

Supervisors Bill Cowles in Orange County and Susan Gill in Citrus County both questioned Detzner's actions. "From a practical standpoint, the voters have been dropping off their voted ballots at early vote sites and drop boxes for years," Gill said. "Voters will not be happy with the change that causes them the inconvenience."

Escambia Supervisor of Elections David Stafford said: "Our association’s general counsel (Ron Labasky) is reviewing it, and I look forward to his assessment.  I’m sure it will be a topic of discussion at our upcoming meeting, including whether we will want to seek a legislative remedy."

The ACLU joined the fray. Nancy Abudu, ACLU of Florida Director of Legal Operations, said: "Given this administration’s record of attacks on Floridians’ right to vote, we are concerned that this directive restricts Floridians’ ability to participate in our democracy.” She said Detzner's directive is "not binding" on supervisors, a matter of legal dispute. Abudu urged supervisors to "eliminate needless roadblocks for voters."

Then there was Evelyn Balogh, a voter in Tarpon Springs who said she uses a wheelchair and a walker, is unable to drive, and greatly appreciates Clark's use of drop-off sites (which have been in use since the 2008 primary). "The whole reason I vote is because I can vote absentee," Balogh said, adding of Detzner: "I don't know what this man is thinking."

 

 

 

[Last modified: Wednesday, November 27, 2013 7:32am]

    

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