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Florida's New Absentee Ballot Directive Gets Pushback

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – A statewide directive dealing with absentee ballots is rankling some election supervisors in Florida.

Secretary of State Ken 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.

The Pinellas county elections chief has said she didn't plan to follow Detzner's order. Deborah Clark 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."

Pinellas County has a special election primary scheduled for January 14th to replace the late Congressman C.W. Bill Young, who died in October. The general election is slated for March 11.

Miami-Dade's Elections office sent the following statement to

"On behalf of Penelope Townsley, Miami-Dade County's absentee ballot practices comply with the Secretary of State's recent directive.  In addition to accepting absentee ballots at the department's main office in Doral, the County also accepts absentee ballots delivered to the satellite office in the Stephen P. Clarke Center in downtown Miami.  Moreover, as of 2012, the Mayor with the support and direction of the Board of County Commissioners provides pre-paid return postage for all absentee ballots in countywide elections affording Miami-Dade County electors the ability to return their absentee ballots at any location where mail is collected."

The standoff, which once again pits Gov. Rick Scott's secretary of state against independent county elections supervisors, could ultimately end up in court.

"The directive doesn't change anything in the law," said Detzner spokeswoman Brittany Lesser. "It's a clarification of existing law."

Questions have also 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.

However, under state law, Detzner could file a lawsuit against Clark in Leon County Circuit Court to try to force her to follow the directive. It wasn't clear Monday whether the state had made a decision on whether to take that route.

Detzner's directive is 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.

"The News Service of Florida's Brandon Larrabee and Dara Kam contributed to this report."


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