Pinellas vows ballot battle over state's early-voting directive

6:28 PM, Dec 3, 2013   |    comments
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  • U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (right) sits with Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer
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Largo, Florida -- Last year, it was fewer days and shorter hours for people to cast their ballots and that, you'll remember, led to long lines.

This time, the state wants to do away with those early voting locations where folks can conveniently drop-off their absentee ballots.

But Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark, a Republican, says this is about voters' rights, not politics, and is defying the state's order to end the satellite voting places. And she's getting bi-partisan support.

"We feel this is pretty anti-voter," said Julie Marcus, a spokesperson for the Pinellas County Elections Office.

Despite the Nov. 25 directive from Secretary of State Ken Detzner, the Pinellas County Elections Office intends to keep on using its early ballot collection boxes at at least five locations. They're located in county buildings and are manned and secured by a deputized elections worker.

"There's chain of custody procedures so we feel we're in compliance with what the law requires," said Marcus.

Pinellas becomes the first to test and openly defy the directive by virtue of its upcoming election, a January primary between Republicans vying for the congressional seat formerly held by the late C.W. Bill Young.

The satellite voting locations, they say, have become a preferred, trusted method for county voters.

"Over 105,000 people dropped their ballots off in the 2012 General Election. So eliminating this as an option -- it restricts access. And ultimately it will restrict voter turnout," said Marcus.

Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer and U.S. Senator Bill Nelson also criticized Detzner and Governor Scott for what they called another blatant attempt to suppress the vote in Florida.

They also disputed any implication of voter fraud.

"I was flabbergasted when this directive came out. You know, this is a solution to a problem that didn't exist," said Latimer.

"This is so obvious that it is making it harder to vote for average folks whether they're republican or democrat, that we ought to stop this nonsense," added Senator Nelson.

SEE ALSO: Sen. Bill Nelson questions new ballot directive

The secretary of state's office says its directive resulted from an inquiry made by other election supervisors and, after looking at the state statutes, determined the satellite drop-off locations do not comply with Florida's election law.

Pinellas' response?

"It's the opinion of the secretary of state and it's his interpretation of the law and we feel differently," said Marcus.

So far there's been no response from Secretary Detzner about whether they'll agree to disagree.

But if the governor's office wants to force the issue it could seek a court order forcing election supervisors to comply with that directive.

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