Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Sample online ballots in Florida spur clash on privacy

Sample online ballots in Florida spur clash on privacy

Voting, like everything else, is discovering the digital age.

No, online voting is not coming to Florida. The state that gave us six-hour waits at the polls obviously isn't ready for that.

What the state Legislature wants is for voters to give their email addresses to county elections offices so they can get sample ballots online, rather than by mail, and study their choices electronically.

If enough voters opt in, counties could save a lot on printing and postage costs.

Elections supervisors like the idea. But they want the law changed so that voters' email addresses would remain confidential.

That has brought protests from the First Amendment Foundation, an open government group backed by many of Florida's newspapers. The League of Women Voters isn't sure voters' email addresses should be a secret, either.

But elections officials and legislators say that if voters' email addresses were public, they would be hounded by political parties wanting money and candidates seeking support, not to mention retailers and others. They say that would discourage voters from giving out their email addresses.

Legislation to keep the information private — SB 1260 and HB 249 — is moving ahead with unanimous support from Republicans and Democrats.

The sponsors are Sen. Jeremy Ring, a Margate Democrat, and Rep. Bryan Nelson, R-Apopka, who said it would be wrong to make a voter's email address public information.

"It was just meant to get higher participation," Nelson said. "It's to give people more comfort that they won't be solicited."

First Amendment Foundation president Barbara Petersen says the secrecy is not needed. In a letter of opposition, she noted that a finding of legislative necessity, required for all public records exemptions, says secrecy would prevent voter fraud, "yet there is no factual evidence to support this assertion."

"Furthermore," Petersen went on, "there are no signs that voters are shying away from the polls because their email addresses are subject to disclosure."

Deirdre Macnab of the League of Women Voters said email addresses could be lost and voters wouldn't get their sample ballots. She also said people change their email addresses a lot.

"We support ways to cut costs and reduce the use of paper, but this idea should be approached with caution to see if the amount of work justifies the end product," Macnab said.

County elections supervisors are not secretive people. But they are in the customer service business and their customers are voters.

Citrus County's Susan Gill says people, fearful of identity theft, complain when they learn that their date of birth is public information (as are voters' party affiliations and how often they vote).

"Sometimes," Gill said, "the Sunshine Law can give us a sunburn."

Contact Steve Bousquet at

Sample online ballots in Florida spur clash on privacy

Sample online ballots in Florida spur clash on privacy 03/18/13 [Last modified: Monday, March 18, 2013 6:55pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. NATO rolls out the red carpet, buffs its image for Trump


    BRUSSELS — NATO is not only rolling out the red carpet for U.S. President Donald Trump in Brussels Thursday, the military alliance — which Trump once declared obsolete — has been busy repackaging its image and is ready to unveil a new headquarters worth more than 1 billion euros.

    U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife Melania arrive at Fiumicino's Leonardo Da Vinci International airport, near Rome, Tuesday, May 23, 2017. Trump is in Italy for a two day visit, including a meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, ahead of his participation in a NATO summit in Brussels on Thursday. [Associated Press]
  2. Taiwan becomes first in Asia to recognize same-sex marriage


    TAIPEI, Taiwan — In a first for Asia, Taiwan's Constitutional Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage on Wednesday, punctuating a yearslong campaign by advocates for gay rights in one of the continent's most liberal democracies.

    Same-sex marriage supporters wave rainbow Taiwan flags after the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday, May 24, 2017. Taiwan's Constitutional Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage on Wednesday, making the island the first place in Asia to recognize gay unions. [Associated Press]
  3. 'Top Gun' sequel? Tom Cruise says it starts filming soon


    Tom Cruise is once again feeling the need for speed.

    Tom Cruise starred in "Top Gun" in 1986, and said he'll begin work on a sequel within the next year.
  4. Trump presents Pope Francis with sculpture made by Florida artist


    An artist from Stuart, Florida, made a bronze sculpture that President Trump presented today to Pope Francis.

    The artist and his work
  5. What could have been the game-winning blast turned into a long single for Colby Rasmus.