Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Stop restricting voting rights

 

OUR OPINION: Flap over absentee ballot drop-off sites unnecessary, confusing

HeraldEd@MiamiHerald.com

Yet another flap between state officials and Florida’s county election supervisors is in the news, raising new questions about the motives of Republican Gov. Rick Scott and his appointee, Secretary of State Ken Detzner. Are they committed to making it easier for all eligible Floridians to vote or is their real goal to make it more difficult?

So wondered U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, before meeting with Tampa Bay area elections supervisors on Tuesday. “I just don’t understand why the state keeps making it harder for people to vote,” he said. Good question.

First, the governor signed a bill in 2011 that restricted the hours for early voting, raising the ire of county supervisors.

They warned of lengthy delays for voters during the 2012 presidential election. They were so right — some voters in South Florida stood in line for eight hours just to exercise their constitutional right. That’s unconscionable.

The governor and Mr. Detzner also tried to purge voter rolls before the presidential election — with disastrous results. The “purge” was so riddled with mistakes and misinformation that its instigators finally cancelled it.

Still, that didn’t deter Mr. Detzner from calling for one more purge in search of disqualified voters this year. This time, county supervisors simply refused to participate, saying the state was still using outdated data. The supervisors were right to reject this proposal.

The latest controversy involves a 2014 state voting-guide rule regarding how voters can return absentee ballots. Some supervisors, one being Pinellas County Supervisor Deborah Clark, allow the ballots to be dropped off at remote locations staffed by elections officials, including at early-voting sites such as libraries. Other supervisors only accept absentee ballots at the elections office or its branch offices. So there are variations in how supervisors interpret the law.

But when Mr. Detzner informed Ms. Clark that, according to the new guidelines, she is in violation by allowing the remote site drop-offs, the Pinellas County official balked. Other supervisors, mainly in Central Florida, questioned Mr. Detzner’s motives. Some say they have allowed ballots to be left at early-voting sites and other elections-staffed locations for years without a hitch.

Ms. Clark is preparing for a special election in the 13th Congressional District to replace U.S. Rep. Bill Young, who died last month. On the verge of sending out thousands of absentee ballots, Ms. Clark rejected Mr. Detzner’s ruling, saying her six-year-old system of drop-off sites is “in full compliance with the law” and that state officials already knew about the system because it’s included in plans she submits to the state to earn federal voter education money. Ms. Clark also emphasized that her drop-off locations are staffed by her deputies, who by law have the same power as the supervisor and keep watch over locked ballot boxes with numbered seals.

Ms. Clark is known for encouraging voter turnout, and her ballot drop-off plan is part of that strategy — a safe, protected method to get out the vote. Mr. Detzner should be encouraging, not castigating, her. But since there is confusion over how supervisors interpret the ballot drop-off rules, the state’s 67 elections supervisors, who are meeting this month, should agree to get the law clarified in the Legislature.

They should side with Ms. Clark and seek to make it easier for the people of Florida to exercise their voting rights by expanding — not restricting — drop-off sites for absentee ballots.

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