By now, the Florida Legislature should know better than to try to make it harder to vote. The public outrage over a 2011 law that reduced early voting forced lawmakers to backtrack later, and the last thing they should do is follow Gov. Rick Scott's voter suppression efforts. Yet a Senate elections committee bill to be discussed today would limit where voters can drop off absentee ballots in Pinellas and elsewhere. That limit should be cut from an elections bill that has other positive provisions.
The proposed limit on ballot dropoff sites is a continuation of last year's fight between the Scott administration and Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark. Secretary of State Ken Detzner directed elections supervisors to eliminate all absentee ballot dropoff sites except for their offices. Clark, who had 14 dropoff sites for the 2012 election that included public libraries and tax collector branch offices, refused. Detzner dropped the issue, which happened to occur amid preparations for the U.S. House District 13 congressional race in Pinellas.
Now the Senate is poised to bring the issue up again. A Senate Ethics & Elections Committee bill would allow absentee ballots to be turned in only to the main elections office, branch elections offices, polling rooms at an early voting site or an election supervisor's P.O. box at a post office. Clark has correctly protested that those limits are too narrow and would make it more difficult to vote. She has used five sites for dropping off ballots for Tuesday's congressional election.
Committee Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, makes the familiar argument about the potential for election fraud and says the proposed restrictions on dropoff sites only begin the conversation. But Clark has had no security issues since she started allowing voters to drop off ballots at branch libraries and tax collector offices in 2008. This proposed restriction is really about pleasing the governor and pressuring Clark to add early voting sites. Clark should add more early voting sites, but this is not the way to get her to do it.
More encouraging is another provision in the bill that would require the state to offer online voter registration by July 2015. Voters could register online through a secure website, and nearly two dozen states already have similar systems. That should encourage more Floridians to register to vote and participate in the electoral process.
There is plenty of time for senators to improve this elections bill and remove strict limits on absentee ballot dropoff sites. It makes no sense for the same legislation to make it easier to register to vote but harder to cast a ballot.