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Senate seeks changes in absentee ballot procedures

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee has drafted a bill dealing with online voter registration, absentee ballots and other election issues. Tucked into the 38-page bill is language that would limit the use of absentee ballot dropoff sites by several county election supervisors, most notably Pinellas County's Deborah Clark.

Clark clashed with Secretary of State Ken Detzner in December after he issued a surprise directive saying that the use of remote dropoff locations for absentee ballots was not authorized by law. Clark served notice she would ignore Detzner's order and is using three tax collector offices and two branch county libraries for ballot dropoffs in the current special election in the 13th congressional district.

Clark has said she has used secure satellite dropoff locations since 2006, and all ballots are handled only by her employees.

The Senate bill (SPB 7068) would require voters who cast absentee ballots to return them only to the main or branch office of the supervisor, a polling room at an early voting site, or to an election post office box at a post office. The bill defines a branch office as "a permanent facility of the supervisor and staffed by one or more permanent, full-time employees of the supervisor."

The legislation was developed by the staff of the committee that is chaired by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.

The bill also requires the state to set up a system of online voter registration on a "secure Internet website" by July 1, 2015.

The bill also would revise the instructions that would be given to absentee voters, and would provide every absentee voter with two separate ballots: a secrecy envelope for the ballot and a mailing envelope.