By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner’s directive prohibiting county election supervisors from accepting absentee ballots any place other than in their main office continues to get pushback from election officials and now a U.S. Senator.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson recently sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to review the state directive that he said is another form of voter suppression. The Democratic senator has railed against changes to the state’s voting laws by GOP leaders in the state before and he has said this new change would directly affect a looming election in Pinellas County. The Orlando Sentinel reports:
Central Florida’s election supervisors are saying they will defy the Nov. 25 order calling for an end to the use of remote sites such as libraries to drop off absentee ballots except in main election offices or branches.
Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner issued the order and said the curb was needed to ensure uniform elections in Florida’s 67 counties. A spokeswoman for his office sent this statement: “Secretary Detzner wants 100 percent of voters to vote and zero percent fraud. We are working toward both of these goals.”
Nelson called the directive a clear attempt to suppress the vote before an upcoming special election in Pinellas County.
“I am in this to protect the voters,” Nelson said in Orlando on Thursday. “Given the history of voting problems in this state….it’s fairly clear we ought to be concerned about the interference in making it more difficult to vote.”
Nelson met with Orange County Election Supervisor Bill Cowles on Thursday to discuss the order, and he shared his views with Holder in a letter.
“I am concerned about the impact this directive will have on citizens whose jobs, transportation or address, make it far easier for them to use mobile drop-off locations,” Nelson wrote to Holder.
It’s unclear whether the order from the state’s election chief is binding. Lawyers with the ACLU of Florida have been telling election supervisors they are within their right to ignore Detzner’s director.
So far, some already have announced plans to not follow the new order.
According to The News Service of Florida, Pinellas County has already announced plans to continue its five-year-old policy of providing ballot drop-off sites around the county during elections. The News Service of Florida reported:
With a special election for a Pinellas County congressional seat looming, the county’s elections chief has signaled she will defy a directive issued by Secretary of State Ken Detzner on where voters can deliver absentee ballots.
…The wrangling comes little more than a month before a Jan. 14 primary in the campaign to replace the late Congressman C.W. Bill Young, who died in October. The general election is slated for March 11.
…Pinellas County Supervisor Deborah Clark said she didn’t plan to follow Detzner’s order. She also laid out the security procedures that her office uses at the locations where voters can drop their ballots.
“They are specifically directed at ensuring the sanctity and integrity of both the ballots and the election,” Clark wrote. “Given my firm belief that my use of drop-off locations for absentee ballots as set forth herein is in full compliance with the law, I plan to continue using them, including in the impending special primary election.”
Broward County is hoping a work-around the law would pass muster. Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes said she has yet to hear about a mobile drop-off site she plans on using during elections. According to The Miami Herald:
In Broward, voters can submit their completed absentee ballots to an election staffer who drives the “Election Connection” van to various announced spots.
Broward Supervisor Brenda Snipes told Naked Politics that she hasn’t talked to anyone in Detzner’s office about whether the van complies with his directive but she believes it does because it is “an office on wheels.” (We will post an update if we get a reply from Detzner’s spokeswoman about the van.)
The employee who drives the van registers voters, updates their information and collects absentee ballots.
“It is equipped like our office with most election functions…,” Snipes said.
The Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections (FSASE) has not announced how it will proceed with the directive. The group’s lawyer said he’s still looking into the legality of Detzner’s order.
According to the News Service of Florida, Ron Labasky, FSASE’s general counsel, “said the organization was still trying to figure out how to handle some supervisors’ concerns about the directive.”
Labasky said he was dubious about how Detzner was interpreting the law by tying together parts of the elections code, which doesn’t explicitly ban returning the ballots to early voting sites.
“I find that maybe the legal analysis is a little bit lacking,” Labasky said.
In the meantime, Lee County Elections Supervisor Sharon Harrington said not all supervisors will dismiss the directive. Instead, she said they could appeal to Detzner to change it, or supervisors could lobby the Florida Legislature to pass a law this upcoming session that would codify the right for supervisors to have multiple drop-off sites for absentee ballots in Florida statutes.