1. Opinion

Editorial: Another attempt to make voting harder

Ken Detzner told election supervisors to restrict absentee ballot dropoff sites to their offices.
Ken Detzner told election supervisors to restrict absentee ballot dropoff sites to their offices.
Published Nov. 26, 2013

Once again Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner is carrying out Gov. Rick Scott's mission to make it harder to vote. With little explanation, Detzner told the state's election supervisors this week to eliminate all absentee ballot dropoff sites except for their offices. This is no more defensible than the administration's continuing misguided effort to purge the voting roll of noncitizens, and election supervisors should ignore Detzner's latest demand.

The new restrictions regarding absentee ballots have gone over like a hanging chad among many of the state's 67 election supervisors, all of whom are elected officials except in Miami-Dade County. They were not consulted about the change, and Detzner's argument that restricting ballot dropoffs to supervisors' offices ensures statewide uniformity in voting procedures is a weak rationale for making voting more inconvenient.

It's also inconsistent. Detzner didn't have a problem with nonuniformity during the 2012 election. Now he does, and the timing happens to coincide with the special congressional election in Pinellas County to fill the seat of the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young. Detzner's move could dissuade the casual voter from participation in a low-turnout special election, which would likely favor the Republican candidate.

Pinellas has more voters who choose to mail or drop off ballots than any other county in the state. That is largely because Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark has emphasized the convenience of absentee voting. Clark had 14 dropoff sites for the 2012 election, using public libraries, tax collector branch offices and other places without a hitch. Clark said she's "very worried" about the change and how it would impact ballot accessibility.

Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer used 13 public libraries as early voting and ballot dropoff sites for the 2012 election — sites that would be unavailable under Detzner's directive. Latimer says the idea that remote dropoff sites pose a security risk is nonsense considering that most people use the mail to send in their absentee ballots, a process far less tightly controlled by supervisors. During early voting last year, Hillsborough averaged 800 absentee ballot dropoffs per day, and without that option Latimer envisions far longer lines during early voting.

This is no way for Detzner to mend relations with the state's election supervisors, who are still steamed over his botched effort last year to purge noncitizens from the rolls. The list of purported noncitizens Detzner's office sent out was disproportionately minority and so sloppy and full of errors that the supervisors refused to cooperate. Still, his office has embarked on another noncitizen voter purge, and many elections supervisors remain skeptical.

Detzner's interpretation of state election law shouldn't be the final word. Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho called the directive "un-American" and intends to ignore it. He's right. Just as elections supervisors refused to go along with the Scott administration's earlier voter-suppression efforts, they should refuse to make it harder to cast absentee ballots and continue to provide reasonable dropoff sites.