Republicans must be feeling some pre-election jitters because they’re rolling out the zany rule changes:
Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) chief election official issued new rules Monday night that could hamper absentee voting, just months before Floridians in the state’s 13th Congressional district take part in a special election to replace the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R). The seat was held by Republicans for decades, but is now considered a tossup.
Under the new rule, Floridians will be prohibited from dropping off their absentee ballots at “libraries, tax collectors’ branch offices and other places” and will only be allowed to mail-in their selections or deposit them at local election offices.
Detzner claims that the rule change clarifies established statutory language and establishes “uniformity,” but some supervisors fear that it could have the effect of suppressing voter turnout.
“I was surprised, to say the least,” Ann McFall, Volusia’s Supervisor of Elections told ThinkProgress. “I just have one office and no ‘drop boxes.” Under the new rules, “people who like to save postage and drop it off at an early voting site” could no longer do so. “Why create a problem when none currently exists?” she asked.
Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark had a similar reaction. She told The Tampa Bay Times, “I’m very worried about this. I’m just stunned.” Pinellas county “has used dropoff sites since 2008 and used 14 in the 2012 general election,” when 42 percent of the county’s absentee ballot total were left at dropoff sites.
Now one of the county election administrators says she’s defying the order and she plans to retain her drop-off sites and a lot of her fellow county election chiefs are backing her up. Florida Senator Bill Nelson has also weighed in:
Nelson said he’s concerned that the new rule is an attempt at voter suppression.
“This is so obvious that it’s making it harder to vote for the average folks, whether Republican or Democrat,” he said.
Some elections supervisors agree.
Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer said he has 15 sites where voters can drop off their ballots prior to election day. If he were to follow the new directive, 13 of them would be closed.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Latimer said. “I was flabbergasted when this memo came out.”
Conservatives have been pulling the last minute election rule change trick for a long time, and this isn’t the first time that local Florida election administrators have rebelled:
Detzner has a history of limiting voters’ access, however. In 2012, the state created a voter purge list full of suspected non-citizens, which was mainly comprised of Latino, African and Asian Americans. The list was full of mistakes, targeting U.S. citizens because of a misspelled name or outdated address. County election supervisors refused to go along with the purge, and the Justice Department sued over possible racial discrimination. Detzner eventually apologized for the effort.
It’s good to remember that free and fair elections can be subverted in a lot of ways. Small rule changes that make it more difficult for certain people to vote can do a lot of damage. It’s just completely unnecessary to make this process so difficult and confusing. Competent, consistent election administration is really important and local officials can be the last line of defense for voters. Of course, local officials are also the people who will hear all the complaints if ballot drop-off locations are closed, just as local officials took all the heat when Florida conservatives recklessly purged thousands of legit voters prior to the 2012 election.