Election supervisor unsure of absentee ballot ruling

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By Mike Wright

Susan Gill is all about voting.

The Citrus County supervisor of elections conducts voter-

registration drives in high schools, encourages early voting and stands ready to talk with anyone about the voting process.

So she’s not sure what to think of a directive issued last week by Secretary of State Ken Detzner that would make voting absentee less convenient than it is now.

Detzner told elections supervisors that voters may no longer drop off absentee ballots at early voting sites. Detzner said he was citing state law that says the absentee ballots must be held secure with the supervisor of elections.

“Supervisors should not solicit return of absentee ballots at any place other than a supervisor’s office … ” Detzner wrote. “A supervisor of elections cannot accept delivery of a marketed absentee ballot anywhere other than his or her office … ”

Supervisors of elections statewide are complaining about the directive, saying it will hurt voter participation in their counties.

Gill said in the 2012 presidential election, 885 people cast absentee ballots at Citrus County’s four early voting sites.

“It’s very successful,” she said. “People love it. They love having options. I love being able to give the option.”

A certified poll clerk accepts the ballot and secures it. All absentee ballots are transported to the elections office each day, where they are locked up until they’re counted on election night.

Gill said the issue is of an immediate concern in Pinellas County, which has a special congressional Republican primary in January and election in March.

Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark wrote to Detzner that the voters in her county cast absentee ballots not only at early voting sites, but also numerous “drop box” locations.

Clark said the sites are secure and do not violate state law. She said she would continue accepting absentee ballots at those sites.

Detzner’s response indicated he would permit the absentee ballot drop-off in Pinellas County as Clark outlined.

But it still leaves the state’s other supervisors, such as Gill, wondering whether the rule will stay in place for the 2014 primaries and election.

“There’s been a tremendous amount of push-back on it,” she said. “Maybe we need to come to someplace in the middle.”

Gill said one local candidate has already asked for clarification on the absentee ballot issue. Gill said her advice is to take a wait-and-see approach.

“The voters like it,” she said. “I think it’s very safe and I hope we can continue on with it.”

Contact reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com.