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Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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O’Neill: Changes to absentee ballots all wrong

You don’t have to be Craig Latimer, Deborah Clark or Brian Carley, supervisors of elections for Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties, respectively, to see the sheer senselessness in that directive that recently came down from Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner. He said he wanted all 67 of Florida’s election supervisors to impose changes in the handling of absentee ballots.

Specifically, Detzner, a gubernatorial appointee, has been pushing elected supervisors to eliminate all absentee ballot dropoff sites other than main offices. “Uniformity” and “security” is the specious rationale, even at the obvious expense of convenience.

The reaction was as predictable as it was immediate and incredulous.

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

“This is not promoting ballot accessibility,” replied Clark. “I’m very worried about this. I’m just stunned.”

“It does give me pause as being anti-voter, and that greatly concerns me,” retorted Carley.

For good measure, Ion Sancho, the veteran supervisor of elections in Tallahassee’s home county of Leon, couldn’t have been more blunt. He labeled Detzner’s directive “un-American.” Ouch.

Now Detzner is indicating that he’s willing to, well, discuss it after-the-fact. It’s called knee-jerk damage control. But you can’t undo politically self-serving, ignoble intent and resultant ill will.

You would think these are professionals whose job, as they see it, is to accommodate — not inconvenience — voters. It is. You would think Detzner, the Kurt Browning replacement, was a Tallahassee insider who had spent the lion’s share of his lobbying days as the executive director of the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association. He has.

He also doesn’t issue significant, voter-impacting orders without a go-ahead from the man who appointed him, Gov. Rick Scott. There’s precedent, as we know.

This is the same political hack who alienated supervisors last year with that well-chronicled and discredited effort to purge non-citizens from the voter rolls. And a sequel is in the works. Thanks again for helping the national media with more “Flor-i-DUH” material. He is now converting well-earned supervisor skeptics into full-fledged, cynical adversaries.

The timing, of course, is beyond suspicious — just as it was leading up to the presidential election in 2012.

Pinellas County is especially vulnerable, but fortunate that Clark has served notice of her noncompliance. She has underscored that the remote dropoff sites actually boost voter turnout and save money. Not a bad argument.

It’s hardly happenstance that Pinellas has more voters who choose to mail or drop off ballots than any other Florida county. Last year more than 100,000 Pinellas voters utilized (14) dropoff sites for the presidential election. (Hillsborough had 13.)

Pinellas also has a special congressional election early next year to fill the seat of the late Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young. It is a national barometer race and could go Democratic for the first time in most residents’ memory. The absentee-ballot-drop-off vote skews Democratic.

This whole meddlesome modus operandi makes no sense for several reasons.

Making voting more inconvenient — whether it’s cutting hours, decreasing days, harassing ostensible “noncitizens,” or eliminating secured ballot drop-off venues — is not good governance. More to the point, it’s not good democracy. We’re better than this. We don’t have to be in self-perpetuating, Flor-i-DUH mode all the time.

But, ironically, it’s not even smart, partisan politics.

Scott has already earned statewide enmity and national notoriety over last year’s ham-handed efforts to limit voting in the disingenuous name of fraud-fighting. He has a transparent re-election strategy — take continuous, unqualified credit for the drop in unemployment and the increase in jobs — and the assurance of obscenely stocked campaign coffers. He doesn’t need to chance motivating his Democratic opposition with visceral reminders of “voter suppression” scenarios.

That’s the inexplicable risk he incurs by his puppet-master routine with Detzner that has unnecessarily added a legally problematic, absentee-ballot subplot.

Moreover, he doesn’t need to give pause to any voter offended by any perception of over-reaching, big government. It’s a losing strategy for Detzner to channel Scott by advocating intrusive, counterproductive forays into local county business. Doing the democratically wrong thing for all the usual wrong-headed, partisan reasons is beyond outrageous.

You don’t have to be a political consultant to figure this out. Who’s advising this governor? Lance Armstrong? Paula Deen?

Checks and rented weapons

Anybody else think this? Given how often we are tragically reminded that we live in a gun-enamored society, how is it still possible that anybody off the street can rent a weapon at a shooting range — with no background check needed? No training required. No questions asked.

Last week a guy rented a gun at a Pinellas Park shooting range and turned it on himself. Others could have died as well. And it wasn’t the first time that a person had used the Shoot Straight Gun Range as a suicide venue. The last one was four months ago. Surely, background checking gun renters is something the Founding Fathers would not have frowned upon. Surely.

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