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State's order on absentee ballots upsets election supervisors

Gov. Rick Scott's chief elections official issued an order Monday that imposes new restrictions on how and where voters can return completed absentee ballots in future elections.

At least two county election supervisors, Brian Corley in Pasco County and Deborah Clark in Pinellas, are troubled by the decision, say they were never consulted by the state and predicted that it could depress turnout.Pinellas is also the county where voters will soon elect a new member of Congress to replace the late C.W. Bill Young.

The two-page order, called a "directive," was issued by Secretary of State Ken Detzner.

In it, Detzner said his office "has been asked for clarification" on the return of absentees, but he didn't say by whom. He wrote: "Supervisors should not solicit return of absentee ballots at any place other than a supervisor's office, except for the purpose of having the absentee ballot cancelled if the voter wants to vote in person."

Detzner noted that another part of the elections code instructs voters to mail absentee ballots to supervisors' offices.

His directive prohibits Clark from opening ballot drop-off locations for the convenience of voters. Clark is a strong proponent of letting voters vote by mail and had 14 secure drop-off sites in the 2012 presidential election, including local tax collectors' offices and public libraries.

Clark said other large counties also use absentee ballot drop-off sites, and she said the effect of Detzner's order is to inconvenience voters by making them drive longer distances to return their ballots. Her three offices are in St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Largo.

"I think this is going to have a major impact statewide," Clark said. "This is not helpful for increasing ballot accessibility, and I am just stunned as to why they would come out with something like this."

Corley said the Scott administration directive was not "pro-voter." Said Corley: "I have the utmost respect for Secretary Detzner, but he has never run an election and this directive appears to show that. It does not have the most pro-voter sentiment for the political process, and that gives me great concerns ... Maybe they should consider consulting with some of us supervisors of elections before they issue something like this."

-- Steve Bousquet