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Leaving Florida elections supervisors in the dark | Editorial
New voting law sows confusion. Maybe that was the point.
Peg Reese, Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Chief of Staff, brings in a collection of vote by mail ballots as officials prepare to begin canvassing mail-in and provisional ballots at the Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections office in Tampa on Nov. 6, 2020.
Peg Reese, Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Chief of Staff, brings in a collection of vote by mail ballots as officials prepare to begin canvassing mail-in and provisional ballots at the Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections office in Tampa on Nov. 6, 2020. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Jun. 18

Florida’s new voting law is confusing, cumbersome and a headache to administer — a solution in search of a problem. That wasn’t the complaint this week from left-wing activists, but from local elections supervisors from both political parties. It’s another reminder of what happens when lawmakers monkey with the mechanics of governing. And it calls on the state to provide better guidance before chaos erupts at the polls.

The impact of the new law on the state’s 67 county elections supervisors was on full display Wednesday during the supervisors’ summer conference in Tampa. SB 90, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed last month, tightens Florida’s voting rules by limiting the use of drop-off boxes for mail ballots and requiring more identification from voters in some instances. The measure also, among other things, limits the number of ballots individuals may possess and clears the way for more partisan challenges to disputed ballots.

The changes enacted by the Republican-led Legislature and governor have frustrated Republican and Democratic elections supervisors alike. “We’re all still struggling with how vague some of the new things put into law are,” Okaloosa County election supervisor Paul Lux, a Republican, told the Tampa Bay Times after a sometimes-heated discussion on the controversial new law. Several supervisors took to the microphone in the ballroom of the Water Street Marriott to complain the law doesn’t prescribe what elections offices must do.

“Would you agree with me that these questions are the classic example why the legislators should have checked with the election experts before they started tinkering with things?” asked Alan Hays, Lake County’s elections supervisor, a former Republican state senator.

To be sure, the bill that emerged was far less radical than earlier versions, thanks to elections supervisors working behind the scenes to educate lawmakers on how elections work. But the final product still leaves unanswered questions, even beyond those raised by outstanding legal challenges. Who polices the drop-off boxes? What constitutes a “reasonable objection” to a ballot from partisan operatives? State elections officials offered little this week to eliminate the confusion. “We’re all trying to figure this out,” Julie Marcus, the Republican supervisor of elections in Pinellas County, told the state’s attorneys. “But we have elections in August.”

The supervisors are right to express their frustration. Beyond being marginalized by Republicans intent on restricting access to the ballot, the supervisors rightly see the law as the wrong reaction to the highly successful 2020 election. They also have legitimate worries over how the extra burdens will gunk up the orderly process of registering voters and managing elections. And the lack of clarity could lead to varying practices across the state, which only resurrects the embarrassment of past Florida elections. Together, these are recipes for long lines, voter confusion and additional legal challenges.

Leon County’s Democratic supervisor Mark Earley also noted that confusion among supervisors would spread to voters, too, and could undermine public trust in the election process. “Some of this is unworkable. Some of it just doesn’t make much sense. Some of it seems to disenfranchise voters,” Earley told the Times. The professionals who actually run elections have sounded the alarm. Now DeSantis must ensure that local supervisors have the clarity to carry out voting changes that marked a top Republican priority.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.