Pinellas elections chief will ignore state's absentee ballot order
Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark put Gov. Rick Scott's administration on notice Monday: She will continue to use remote drop-off sites so that voters can return their absentee ballots in the upcoming special election for an open congressional seat without driving longer distances in the elongated county.
Clark responded to a Nov. 25 directive from Scott's chief elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who said supervisors "should not solicit return of absentee ballots at any place other than a supervisor's office," in effect ruling that drop-off sites are illegal. Detzner's directive set off an intense debate among supervisors, who were not consulted in advance and didn't know the order was coming.
In her response, Clark cited the growing popularity of her remote drop-off locations, said it has saved taxpayers' money, and cited provisions in state election laws that allow election supervisors to appoint deputies with the same powers (those deputies staff the dropoff sites). She said state law also anticipates other means of voters handing in their absentees because it instructs them to pay for sufficient postage "if mailed."
"Thus," Clark wrote, "my practice of having ballots dropped off at remote locations that are staffed by deputy supervisors of elections is in full compliance with the election code."
Clark, a Republican, appears to have the most elaborate drop-off system in the state, with 14 sites in the 2012 presidential election. She noted that she has used them since the 2008 primary election with no problems, and that the state knew all about it because she has included it in her election plans filed with the state in support of Pinellas' receipt of federal funds under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). Clark also cited the landmark voting case in Florida, Boardman v. Esteva, in which the state Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that the validity of absentee ballots hinged on "substantial compliance with the essential requirements of the absentee voting law."
In closing, Clark served notice she would ignore Detzner's directive: "I plan to continue using them, including in the impending special primary election."
Detzner, it would appear, has two options: He can capitulate to Clark's wishes, which would render his directive meaningless, or he can pursue legal remedies, as the law gives him power to seek a court injunction "to enforce the performance of any duties of a county supervisor of elections."