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State defends absentee ballot rules; elections supervisors split

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The Florida secretary of state’s office on Tuesday defended a directive it issued Monday to local elections supervisors to stop accepting absentee ballots at satellite drop-off locations as a way to bring “uniformity” to the state’s election system.

But critics say Secretary of State Ken Detzner’s order will actually make it more difficult for voters and complicate work for elections supervisors.

absentee1126“As the Chief Election Officer for the State of Florida, it is my duty and responsibility to provide uniformity for the statewide implementation of elections,” Detzner said through a spokeswoman Tuesday.

“The directive issued does not change anything in the law, but is a clarification of existing law that was initiated by questions from supervisors of elections that prompted us to address this on a statewide level.”

One problem Detzner was trying to address was different interpretations among elections supervisors regarding whether absentee ballots can be collected at drop-off points established by county offices. Some counties, such as Pinellas, promote the boxes as ways to encourage voting. Others consider the procedure prohibited.

“It’s not allowed,” Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher told the Tampa Bay Times.

Detzner’s directive cited a question it received from the Miami-Dade County supervisor of elections in April regarding the handling of absentee ballots.

In response, Detzner stated that polling places are forbidden from accepting absentee ballots on the day of the election and that voters should be advised to bring their ballots personally to the county supervisor of elections office.

Detzner is apparently applying that same reasoning to drop-off sites, which the secretary of state’s office considers different from mailing absentee ballots through normal channels.

Elections supervisors are planning a conference call Wednesday to discuss the directive, Pasco County Elections Supervisor Brian Corley told BizPac Review Tuesday.

The directive makes things particularly complicated for the supervisor of elections office in Pinellas County, where special elections to replace the late U.S. Rep. Bill Young are set for early next year, with a primary election scheduled for Jan. 14 and the general election March 11.

The Pinellas County supervisor of elections office is reviewing Detzner’s directive before deciding on a course of action, elections office Communications Director Nancy Whitlock told BizPac Review on Tuesday.

Whitlock said Pinellas has used the drop-off locations since 2008 without any complaints.

Pinellas Elections Supervisor Deborah Cark, a Republican, issued a statement saying she was “stunned and disappointed by this directive.”

She noted that about 42 percent of the absentee ballots her office handled during the 2012 general election were cast at drop-off locations.

“Any way you look at it, this directive does not serve our voters and will limit access to the election process,” she said in the statement.

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