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Politics

Pinellas elections chief ignores state rule on absentee ballots

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Published:   |   Updated: December 3, 2013 at 08:15 AM

TAMPA ­­— Pinellas County Elections Supervisor Deborah Clark says she’ll ignore a directive on absentee ballot returns from Secretary of State Ken Detzner in the March 11 Congressional District 13 special election.

In a message to Detzner on Monday, Clark said she’ll go ahead with plans to allow voters to drop off absentee ballots at eight sites across the county — not just at her own three offices — in the election to replace the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young.

Disagreeing with Detzner’s interpretation of Florida elections law, she said the law authorizes the extra dropoff points. In addition, she said, they add to voter convenience and save taxpayer dollars.

Detzner’s Nov. 25 directive told supervisors that voters who receive mail ballots but drop them off in person rather than mailing them back must take them to the elections supervisor’s office.

That generated protests from Democrats of voter suppression by the Gov. Rick Scott administration — Detzner is a Scott appointee — and objections from supervisors including Craig Latimer in Hillsborough, a Democrat, and Brian Corley in Pasco, a Republican.

Both use numerous additional dropoff spots besides their own offices in their elections.

The supervisors, irked that they weren’t consulted about the directive, said they don’t accept the legal arguments behind it. Democrats, who have made heavy use of mail ballots that are voted and returned by voters in person, linked the move to attempts by the Scott administration to purge voter rolls of non-citizens.

Democrats say there’s little problem with non-citizens registering, and that the voter list purges can disenfranchise legitimate voters, most of them minorities.

Clark said in her response that she was “disappointed the state of Florida did not consult the 67 supervisors of elections regarding this directive.” She said her emphasis on mail ballots — sometimes returned by mail and sometimes in person — has allowed the county “to increase voter turnout while decreasing the cost of elections.”

Clark, a Republican, described robust security measures she said protect ballots dropped off at locations other than her offices, which will include three tax collector’s offices and two public libraries, for the March 11 voting. She said the Department of State has known about and sanctioned the practice in Pinellas elections going back to 2008.

Detzner doesn’t have the authority to remove or sanction an elected county elections supervisor, but could take legal action to try to enforce his directive.

A Department of State spokeswoman couldn’t be reached Monday about Clark’s response.

wmarch@tampatrib.com

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