Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) chief election official issued new rules Monday night that could hamper absentee voting, just months before Floridians in the state’s 13th Congressional district take part in a special election to replace the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R). The seat was held by Republicans for decades, but is now considered a tossup.
The move surprised some election supervisors, who confirmed to ThinkProgress that Secretary of State Ken Detzner had not consulted them before announcing the change. Under the new rule, Floridians will be prohibited from dropping off their absentee ballots at “libraries, tax collectors’ branch offices and other places” and will only be allowed to mail-in their selections or deposit them at local election offices.
Detzner claims that the rule change clarifies established statutory language and establishes “uniformity,” but some supervisors fear that it could have the effect of suppressing voter turnout.
“I was surprised, to say the least,” Ann McFall, Volusia’s Supervisor of Elections told ThinkProgress. “I just have one office and no ‘drop boxes.” Under the new rules, “people who like to save postage and drop it off at an early voting site” could no longer do so. “Why create a problem when none currently exists?” she asked. “If the Secretary of State were to call me, I would ask why not wait until the winter conference in a few weeks to get ideas from the [Supervisors of Elections]?”
Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark had a similar reaction. She told The Tampa Bay Times, “I’m very worried about this. I’m just stunned.” Pinellas county “has used dropoff sites since 2008 and used 14 in the 2012 general election,” when 42 percent of the county’s absentee ballot total were left at dropoff sites.
Duval County Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland added that the rule would not impact his county, as Duval is one of two that pays for a return postage on an absentee ballot, and disputed charges of voter suppression. “[V]oters will overcome any obstacle and vote, the ballot is designed to be mailed and the voter has not lost that option,” he said.
Detzner has a history of limiting voters’ access, however. In 2012, the state created a voter purge list full of suspected non-citizens, which was mainly comprised of Latino, African and Asian Americans. The list was full of mistakes, targeting U.S. citizens because of a misspelled name or outdated address. County election supervisors refused to go along with the purge, and the Justice Department sued over possible racial discrimination. Detzner eventually apologized for the effort.