BROOKSVILLE - A new state directive restricting absentee ballot returns will not affect Hernando County.
Voters will still be able to mail them as before or return them to either of the two county elections offices, Supervisor of Elections Shirley Anderson said this week in response to the growing controversy.
Anderson said her office will comply with Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner's directive that says if a voter returns a completed absentee ballot in person instead of by mail, it can only be returned to an election supervisor's office. They will not be able to use drop-boxes at early voting sites, according to the directive.
But unlike larger counties, Hernando does not have drop boxes and the directive doesn't apply.
"Nothing will change here in Hernando County," said Anderson.
Anderson said the first election in Hernando County is several months away and anything could happen. She expects the Detzner directive to be a hot topic of discussion at next week's state association meeting.
Pinellas County Supervisor Deborah Clark said she will defy the directive, issued Nov. 25, on where people can deliver absentee ballots.
Clark pronounced herself "stunned and disappointed" by the directive, saying it could cut voter turnout. Hillsborough's Craig Latimer said he was "flabbergasted," and Pasco's Brian Corley said it "has the perception of being very anti-voter."
Detzner issued the directive in response to what his office said are questions from some county supervisors about new language in the state's voter-registration guide 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.
Anderson said her office has locked boxes placed on the counter in the Brooksville and Spring Hill office where voters can place their absentee ballots. The box from the Forest Oaks site is transported to the Brooksville main office for processing.
Statistics show the number of voters preferring early voting in Hernando County is increasing.
In the 2010 general election, 12,659, or 21 percent, voted by mail. In 2012, mail-in voters in the general election totaled 27,799, or 33 percent.
The legality of the new directive has been called into question. Tallahassee lawyer Ron Labasky, who represents the state Association of Supervisors of Elections, said he doesn't consider the directive binding.
Meanwhile, Anderson said much can occur between now and the 2014 election.
"We'll have to wait and see what happens," she said. "As of now, we will have to be compliant with the secretary's directive."
Tampa Tribune reporter William March contributed to this report. Material from the News Service of Florida was also used.