Latimer spoke at a crowded news conference inside Senator Bill Nelson's district office in Tampa. Florida's senior Senator called it another move by the Rick Scott-led administration to "suppress the vote," this time in a low turnout congressional election in the 13th District in Pinellas County early next year.
Detzner's policy announcement last week that Supervisors of Elections should not solicit the return of absentee ballots at any place other than a supervisor's office has been met with exasperation and dismay by virtually every one of those elected officials quoted in the media.
In Hillsborough County for the 2012 election Latimer used 15 early voting sites. All but two of them were in libraries scattered out throughout the vast, 1,000-square mile county. If he followed the policy change, that would reduce the number of places to return an absentee ballot to two locations, with some voters having to drive 40 miles to find their closest drop-off box. "This is not a way to get people to vote or to encourage them to vote by mail, " he said today.
"If I had an election tomorrow or next week, I'd be right there with Deb Clark. I would not be closing these sites down because I know they're secure. I know they're safe. And I also know they're convenient to the voters in our community, " Latimer added.
What's led to suspicions on the part of some Democrats is that Detzner's directive comes just as Pinellas County is engaged in a special congressional race to replace the late Bill Young. On January 14, Republican voters will go to the polls to choose their nominee. The winner will face Democrat Alex Sink on March 11. Since early voting has been allowed in Florida, Clark has discouraged that practice, but has encouraged voters to vote by mail and then submit their ballot to appropriately listed drop boxes throughout the county.
Nelson called the timing is "extraordinary," and the legal justification "specious." And he compared the directive to previous election reforms passed in recent years that saw the reduction of early voting days and dramatically shortening the period of time needed for third party groups to hand in voter registration forms. "The only reason that suppression attempt last year was not successful was when the people caught on with what was happening in a presidential election, they said 'you're not going to take away my vote away from me.'"
And Latimer said that he wished that the Secretary of State's office would spend as much time and energy on getting the vote as they have been on other issues, citing the voter purge from last year and the 2011 election reform bill. "I believe it's way outside the legal boundaries of the Secretary of State's to come out with an opinion like this."
(Update: Secretary Dentzer wrote back to Pinellas County SOE's Deborah Clark on Tuesday night. He praised her for her "quick work to amend your voting security procedures" in advance of the special election, and said that "I do not see the need for any legal action at this time.")