TALLAHASSEE — Florida's secretary of state should be able to suspend elections supervisors or put them on probation if their actions or failure to prepare lead to serious election day problems, a Miami senator said Tuesday.
Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla told Secretary of State Ken Detzner he would have liked to see the idea included in a list of Detzner's recommendations to improve the elections process.
"Why don't we have something in here that puts more accountability measures on the supervisors so that if a supervisor fails to perform there's something we can do about it other than sit there and listen to them go like this," Diaz de la Portilla said, pointing his fingers in opposite directions, during a Senate Ethics and Elections Committee meeting.
All but one of the state's 67 counties elects its supervisors. In Miami-Dade County, the elections supervisor is appointed by the mayor. While the governor has constitutional authority to remove an elected supervisor for incompetence or other problems, that power is rarely used.
The Senate committee is preparing a wide-ranging bill to address elections problems. It will include the expansion of early voting and allowing supervisors more flexibility in choosing early voting sites. The committee agreed with Diaz de la Portilla's suggestion that supervisors be required to submit their plans for staffing and polling equipment ahead of a general election.
Diaz de la Portilla said there should be more ways to discipline supervisors. He said Florida largely ran a smooth election last year, but was still embarrassed because of five counties that had problems with lines or counting votes once the election was over. He suggested after the meeting that the supervisors in Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and St. Lucie would be good candidates for probation if it were allowed. Those three counties along with Broward and Lee were evaluated by Detzner because of problems.
Pasco County elections supervisor Brian Corley was cool to the idea of giving the secretary of state power over an elected official. He compared the situation to the relationship between the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and elected sheriffs.
"If a sheriff in a county had a spike in crime, would the FDLE put that sheriff on probation? I believe not," Corley said.
Detzner told the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee that he wouldn't name names, but the administration of a few elections "came very, very, very close in my opinion, to a decision to have somebody relieved of their duties. I was never asked by the governor, I was never engaged in conversation with his staff, but I can assure you that the troubles and problems in certain areas caused me to think of that issue," Detzner said.