Florida errs with order creating barriers to absentee voting

December 10, 2013 

Gov. Rick Scott's administration sparked an uproar when Secretary of State Ken Detzner ordered county elections supervisors to quit soliciting the return of absentee ballots at satellite sites instead of an elections office or branch.

The secretary of state maintained drop-off locations like libraries and community centers violated state law, ignoring the fact this has been common practice for years and his interpretation of statutes appears dubious. Without consulting a single elections supervisor, Detzner issued a directive that brought howls of voter suppression -- a charge the governor has become well acquainted with over his various efforts to purge the rolls.

With absentee voting growing in popularity, the ease of delivering ballots has become a key attraction -- especially for citizens living far away from an elections office.

Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Michael Bennett joined the chorus against the order for its potential of lowering voter participation. And Pinellas County adamantly rejected Detzner's order over an upcoming special Republican primary election that will determine the GOP candidate in the race to fill the term of Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who recently passed away.

The timing of Detzner's declaration -- with the special Pinellas vote in January -- is curious, to say the least.

Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark asserted voting should be as convenient as possible, a point lost on the governor and secretary of state. She has been aggressively promoting satellite sites for six years, and rebuffed Detzner by stating the locations improve turnout, are legal and ballots are kept secure -- and the drop-off sites meet state regulations.

Voters can always mail in absentee ballots, but confidence in the U.S. Postal Service has fallen. Satellite locations around large counties -- where the supervisor's office may be far way -- is reassuring to residents concerned that their vote count.

Detzner called Clark last week and sent her a follow-up letter, but that communication fell short of retracting his order. He did indicate, however, that additional legal action was not warranted "at this time." That doesn't exactly shut the door to future coercion.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson stepped into the fray, too, requesting a review by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and calling Detzner's directive a clear maneuver to suppress the vote.

Kudos to elections supervisors who stand up for voters, despite bullying from the governor's administration. Our democratic process requires voting be simple and easy, not an onerous exercise that discourages Americans with burdensome restrictions.

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