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You're Not The Boss of Me: Pinellas County, FL Secretary of State Resolve Differences - For Now

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[Image courtesy of northtexaskids]

With all of the attention lately on states like Texas, Arizona, Kansas and Wisconsin, it might be tempting to think that the State of Florida has managed to move past its central role in election controversies.

Just like that fourth or fifth holiday cookie, it would be tempting - but wrong.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner (an appointee of Governor Rick Scott) is in hot water with local supervisors again after a directive that appeared to change longstanding procedures for collection of absentee ballots. The Florida Courier has this story from the Florida News Service:

Secretary of State Ken Detzner and Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark appear to have resolved their differences over where absentee ballots can be collected in the special election to replace the late Congressman C.W. Bill Young.

According to a letter from Detzner to Clark released late Tuesday, the two spoke earlier in the day and Detzner will not take the dispute to court to try to enforce a directive ordering supervisors that they should only accept completed absentee ballots at their offices.

The dispute first flared because it appeared to contradict longstanding practice within the state:

Some supervisors, including Clark, have used secure boxes at locations like early voting sites to make it easier for absentee voters to cast their ballots. Clark had said she would continue to do so in the special election. Voters are expected to go to the polls Jan. 14 for the primary to replace Young, who died in October. The general election is slated for March 11.

Detzner issued a directive Nov. 25 ... telling voters not to return their completed absentee ballots to early voting locations.

Some supervisors provide secure boxes at early voting sites for that purpose.

"Supervisors should not solicit return of absentee ballots at any place other than a supervisor's office, except for the purpose of having the absentee ballots cancelled if the voter wants to vote in person," Detzner wrote in the directive.

But in a response dated Monday, Pinellas County Supervisor Deborah Clark said she didn't plan to follow Detzner's order. She also laid out the security procedures that her office uses at the locations where voters can drop their ballots.

"They are specifically directed at ensuring the sanctity and integrity of both the ballots and the election," Clark wrote. "Given my firm belief that my use of drop-off locations for absentee ballots as set forth herein is in full compliance with the law, I plan to continue using them, including in the impending special primary election."

The dispute intensified because other supervisors were angry that the Secretary's office had, in essence, blamed them for requesting the directive:

Questions also had emerged about what prompted the directive shortly before absentee ballots were mailed out in what is expected to be a hotly contested congressional election. In his directive, Detzner said his office was facing questions about the absentee ballot issue.

"The Division of Elections has been asked for clarification regarding the law governing the return of absentee ballots," he wrote.

The supervisors that Detzner's office appears to be pointing to, though, have said they were not asking for a directive or even an advisory opinion. Pasco County Supervisor Brian Corley, for example, has fired off emails to state officials and others saying he was simply trying to correct an apparent citation error in the voter registration guide.

"In actuality, my staff found an error in the DOE's 2014 Voter Registration & Voting Guide and that was my referral to Gary Holland," Corley wrote to Lesser. Holland is the assistant director of the Division of Elections. " ... A simple 'thank you' from the Division would have sufficed for catching an error & bringing it to the Division's attention in lieu of falsely relaying to the media that I put for a 'request!'" ...

In an interview Monday, Corley questioned why Detzner issued the directive so close to the mailing of absentee ballots in Pinellas County.

"I'm embarrassed for them because it's a new low. Clearly nobody asked for any clarification on this," he said.

"Does it fire up my Irish temper a little bit? Sure it does. But it's not that I get mad that they're using me as a ruse for this silly directive...What makes me angry is I'm trying to figure out where's this coming from? The timing is very unfortunate," he said. "I just am scratching my head trying to figure out what their motivation is. I'd like to think it's not nefarious. I'd like to think it's in the name of uniformity."

The article also notes that the flap over absentee ballots is just the latest irritant between Detzner and county supervisors:

Detzner's directive was the latest salvo in an ongoing skirmish between Gov. Rick Scott and his administration and the state's supervisors, going back to an election overhaul approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature and signed into law by Scott in 2011.

The supervisors then were outraged by rankings of supervisors performed by Detzner but later dropped after the supervisors complained. And the local officials also balked at a flawed non-citizen purge of the voting list abandoned last year but revived by Detzner this year.

At this point, I would say that the decision not to pursue a lawsuit means that hostilities between Detzner and the counties have paused rather than ceased. As Florida prepares to elect a Governor in 2014, these issues will almost certainly re-emerge.

Have another cookie (or two) - and stay tuned ...

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