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Florida sends new ballot drop box guidelines to supervisors of elections

Days before early voting begins, the Department of State issued a memo to supervisors of elections about what they should and should not offer to voters.

TAMPA, Fla. — As early voting is set to begin Oct. 19 in most Tampa Bay-area counties, the state sent guidance about secure drop boxes for vote-by-mail ballots.

Some allege this is an attempt by the state to make it more difficult for voters.

On Wednesday, an attorney for the Department of State sent out a memo about ballot drop boxes. The guidance, not a directive, included answers to questions they say they’ve received from elections supervisors about drop boxes and offers guidance as to how the state department interprets Florida statutes. 

Florida statute is clear about where secure drop boxes must be. They must be at the main office of the respective local supervisor of elections office, branch offices and any early voting location. 

It also adds that they must be “staffed by an employee of the supervisor’s office or a sworn law enforcement officer” during early voting hours of operation.

The memo advises that supervisors staff all drop boxes with office employees or credentialed poll workers, but not volunteers.

Pinellas County is offering 25 drop box locations for the 2020 general election. 

Deputy Supervisor of Elections Dustin Chase said the guidance from the state does not change anything for them or voters.

“Absolutely their ballots are secure. Their ballots have been secure for years in Pinellas County because this is one of the ways our voters have been getting ballots back to us for years and they have always been staffed by two deputized election workers," he told 10 Tampa Bay's Vote Squad.

Hillsborough County is a little different.

In addition to early voting sites and election offices, there is a 24-hour vote by mail drop slot at the main office on Falkenburg Road.

In the memo, the state advised that 24-hour drop boxes are allowed only at election offices and the statute “requires that you appropriately staff the drop box.”

Hillsborough has security monitoring its 24-hour drop box.  

“There’s politics in elections. My office runs elections because we’re advocates for the voters. Voters in Hillsborough County aren’t going to have any trouble at all dropping off their vote-by-mail ballot and if they want to put it in the mail I pay the return postage,” said Craig Latimer, Supervisor of Elections for Hillsborough County.

Other supervisors reiterated that. Aside from Hillsborough, none of them offer a 24-hour drop box and they say this guidance will not change where drop boxes are located or how they are staffed.

They say voters should have confidence that they are following the law to keep ballots safe.

Early voting will run from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Early voting in Tampa Bay will begin on Oct. 19 in all counties except Hernando and Hardee. 

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