Mailbox gone from elections office

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Secretary of State's ruling changes absentee voting

By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

A directive by the Florida Secretary of State has spelled the end of a blue metal locked drop box used for absentee ballots in front of the Levy County Supervisor of Elections office.

On Nov. 25, Maria I. Matthews, the attorney for Secretary of State Ken Detzner, an appointee of Gov. Rock Scott, sent a notice to elections officials in the state's 67 counties that said Detzner had issued Directive 2013-01 on “Return of Absentee Ballots.”

Matthews said the directive explains that “supervisors should never solicit delivery of absentee ballots to any location other than the supervisors’ offices.”  

Matthews said the directive doesn't apply to receipt of an absentee ballot at an early voting site or polling place, except when the voter elects to vote in person and have the absentee ballot cancelled. 

Levy County Supervisor of Elections Tammy Jones said she had already taken down the blue drop box to have it refurbished for the coming year's elections when the directive arrived. She said in a phone interview that it was unlikely the box would be returned to its spot next to the front door of her office building. 

Detzner said in his memorandum on the directive that his office's “Polling Place Procedures Manual”  already “directs supervisors to not accept delivery of a voted absentee ballot at a polling place by a voter who does not want to vote in person, but instead to instruct the voter to 'take the absentee ballot to the office of the supervisor of elections'.”

Detzner went on to say that a “consistent understanding” of election law is essential “to ebsure that the casting and counting of absentee ballots is conducted in a fair, secure, efficient, and impartial manner.”

He said the directive will maintain uniformity in the interpretation and implementation of election law. 

But at the same time he issued a veiled warning to the supervisors who are independent constitutional officers. “In order to avoid confusion and ensure that every absentee voter has the opportunity to cast his or her ballot, supervisors must understand and adhere to the laws governing the proper location for receipt of absentee ballots under each circumstance.”

It's a message that Jones has received loud and clear. She said that supervisors who do not follow the directive can be removed from office by Gov. Rick Scott for malfeasance. 

Jones did send an inquiry to Detzner's attorney Matthews asking about the drop box. 

In an email dated  Nov. 26, Jones said: “We have a drop box in front of our main office that is used for absentee ballots.  We have a very small office and during early voting it can become very congested in our small lobby.  Therefore, we provide this drop box so voters don’t have to wait in the early voting line to drop off their absentee ballot.  The box is emptied daily and ballots are accounted for.  With this new directive may we continue using this drop box.”

Matthews' response ? on the same day ? was short and direct: “Per the reading of the directive based on our construction of law, the only way for you to secure the ballots you received would be for that drop box to be in the Supervisor’s office.”

For now the box is sitting at the office of the person who was doing the new lettering.