A bill that takes aim at Pinellas County’s reliance on absentee mail voting and introduced online registration is moving ahead in the Florida Senate.
SPB 7068 wasn’t voted on Monday, but Sen. Jack Latvala, who chairs the ethics and elections committee made clear that when it comes back in two weeks before his committee, it’ll be a top priority.
“This is a shot that I’m firing to have more early voting locations allowed in Pinellas County,” said Latvala, R-Clearwater.
He filed the bill after a confrontation in December between Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark and Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who ordered an end to absentee dropoff sites because no law allows it. For the past five years, Clark has stressed absentee voting while other counties have emphasized early voting locations.
Latvala said he wants Clark to at least provide early voting at the locations where she has absentee dropoff sites.
“What we have here is we have one supervisor of elections who has decided to try to do everything possible to have vote by mail elections,” Latvala said. “And the Legislature has authorized vote-by-mail elections in certain restricted ways, referendums and things like that, but we have one supervisor out of 67 who’s decided that she’s going to do everything possible to have vote by mail elections, 100 percent. By not having to offer early voting locations, by being able to restrict it to three for a county with 6oo,ooo voters, she’s made a policy decision that affects everybody. We’re going to have mail elections and I just frankly feel that’s wrong. I’ve told her for years that I thought that was wrong. And it just keeps getting more extreme.
“We can have 10 or 15 boxes, the same number of boxes she’s got now, but she needs to allow early voting where those boxes are so people can make up their minds and they don’t get forced into a situation of voting by mail and all the issues that come with that. I’m waiting for the day when someone gets indicted the Thursday before the election and they get elected because everyone’s already voted and they can’t get their ballot back. That’s going to happen. It’s just an issue that I think has to be addressed.”
Latvala has found Democratic support for the bill with Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, who provided much of the language for the bill with an earlier version for online registration. Democrats have long viewed absentee voting with more suspicion than Republicans, and Clemens seemed unconvinced that absentee voting was secure.
But while the bill drew compliments from representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters of Florida for its online registration, which would theoretically increase access to the polls, it has yet to find a House companion bill.
And even a Republican on his committee, Sen. John Thrasher of St. Augustine, seemed to have doubts on adding more restrictions to absentee ballots.
"I personally would like to look at it with a little more detail and talk with a few more of the supervisors of elections in my district," Thrasher said.