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Sunday, Jun 24, 2018
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State elections officials should stop meddling

Here we go again. The state’s top elections officer is attempting to dictate another policy that local elections supervisors say is unnecessary and an impediment to thousands of voters.

This time, Secretary of State Ken Detzner is telling the state’s supervisors to eliminate any remote sites — such as libraries or other public buildings — where voters could drop off an absentee ballot during early-voting hours.

Detzner says his directive is meant to clarify a state law that stipulates the return of absentee ballots be restricted to the office of the supervisor of elections.

But it’s only his interpretation of the law, and state elections supervisors should challenge that interpretation before agreeing to eliminate the popular remote sites. If Detzner’s interpretation is upheld, state lawmakers should change the statute to allow for the remote sites.

The supervisors this week were once again caught by surprise by Detzner and left to wonder why they are being told to eliminate a practice that makes it easier to vote.

“I was flabbergasted,” Hillsborough Supervisor Craig Latimer said. “It’s a perfect example of a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Latimer has 13 sites at libraries in Hillsborough County where voters can drop off absentee ballots. He stations an elections worker at the site to monitor the box, and the ballots are retrieved each day and delivered to the central office. There is no security issue.

Without the 13 remote sites, voters in Hillsborough wanting to drop off an absentee ballot will be forced to drive to the downtown office and jockey for a parking spot, or drive to the supervisor’s office in Brandon, which is no picnic for residents in far southern and northern reaches of the county.

Detzner, a member of Gov. Rick Scott’s administration, continues to spar with some elections officials over the state’s renewed effort this year to purge ineligible voters from the rolls.

During the last election cycle, the purge attempt turned disastrous when the majority of names the state sent to local elections supervisors turned out to be eligible voters mistakenly placed on the purge list.

Critics claimed the move targeted minorities more likely to vote for Democrats rather than the Republicans now in power in Tallahassee.

Those same critics say this latest directive is meant to influence the March special election for the District 13 U.S. House seat representing most of Pinellas County by making it less convenient to cast an absentee ballot. Pinellas voters cast 105,000 absentee ballots in 2012, more than any other county in the state.

Local supervisors have every reason to be angry about the state’s unnecessary intrusion into their business.

In the course of just a few short years the state has instituted questionable changes to popular early-voting hours, launched a flawed voter purge effort, and issued a misguided absentee ballot directive.

Rather than make the voting process better, these moves have instead given life to claims that the state is more interested in preserving a particular party’s political power than in preserving the integrity of the vote.

The state’s meddling needs to stop.

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