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Outsourcing absentee ballot delivery won't change the counting

Brian Corley should be counting votes. He will be doing just that come January after Florida's powers-that-be settled on Jan. 31 for the 2012 presidential primary election.

Tabulating democracy is Corley's job as Pasco supervisor of elections.

But, right now, Corley's work on the logistics of the 2012 election is interrupted by his public relations and lobbying duties. He is trying to persuade state legislators to change absentee balloting while answering to the public that he does not want to change absentee balloting.

Confused?

A lot of people were, at least initially.

Start with the simple issue. Corley wants absentee balloting to have a new name. Specifically, he asked legislators to change the legal description to "vote by mail.''

Absentee voting carries the connotation to many people that they must have a valid excuse for not voting at their designated precinct on Election Day. That is the old definition. To prior generations, absentee voting meant your were either out of town or too ill to travel to the polls.

But, absentee voting now translates to convenience. Get the ballot early and send it back after you've completed it. No affidavits, excuses, travel plans or doctors' notes needed. (Though you do have to sign an affidavit if you are picking up a ballot for somebody else.)

Pasco voters cast more than 38,000 absentee ballots in the 2008 presidential election. That's 13 percent of all the registered voters in the county.

It's wildly popular. Just misnamed. Please change that to accurately reflect the true mission of voting by mail, Corley asked Pasco's legislative delegation last week.

The state Legislature isn't involved in the other issue taking Corley's time. It was his own call and once the information became public, Democratic Party activists, passionate good-government advocates and the occasional conspiracy theorist started demanding answers.

Included in the Corley's 2012 budget is the notation of projected savings on printing, binding and labor costs attributed to "outsourcing the absentee ballot mailing process.'' Instead of hiring and training temporary workers to print ballots, stuff them into envelopes and deliver them to the U.S. Postal Service branch in Dade City, Corley retained a private firm, Advanced Ballot Solutions, to do it.

Except a published report elsewhere was not that specific and most everyone believed incorrectly that Corley intended to have a private vendor actually count the ballots. That is not the case. Such a maneuver would violate state law mandating the supervisor of elections tally all election results.

More to the point, Corley is using a third party exclusively to print and send the requested absentee ballot to the voter. The completed ballot is returned to the Supervisor of Elections office where its receipt is recorded, the signature is verified and then it is sent to the vault for Election Day tabulation.

Advanced Ballot Solutions, co-founded by Ron Moore, former chief deputy of the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Office, already is used by elections supervisors in St. Johns and Charlotte counties. Corley said he turned to the company as a cost-savings in light of constrained government budgets.

The explanation hasn't resonated with everyone, particularly those with memories of butterfly ballots, hanging chads and the disputed 2000 presidential election, or, more recently, the attempts by the 2011 Republican-controlled Legislature to restrict voting access for women and students.

Allowing a private company to send out ballots "is an open invitation for the increased potential and opportunity for election fraud,'' Cindy Fargo of New Port Richey wrote to Corley and county commissioners. So Corley is spending his time trying to ease those suspicions.

It is worth noting that Corley's budget is down 28 percent from four years ago, mirroring the trend in local government to make do with less after of four consecutive years of falling property values. The public shouldn't be surprised then by elected officials choosing to outsource functions, reduce payroll and, in some instances, curtail services.

Of course, there is one more reason for those budget cuts and you can blame democracy. Government revenue dropped significantly due to the additional property tax exemptions provided by Amendment 1 to the Florida Constitution. Voters approved the referendum during Florida's last presidential primary election in January 2008.

In Pasco, Corley counted the ballots.

Outsourcing absentee ballot delivery won't change the counting 10/01/11 [Last modified: Saturday, October 1, 2011 12:04pm]

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