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Late drop box guidance puts pressure on Florida election officials

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In a last-minute memo sent to Supervisors of Elections, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has said all mail ballot drop off boxes must be staffed at all times.

But supervisors question whether the guidance is enforceable and voting groups say the late advice is likely to leave some confused.

If you want to drop off your vote by mail ballot in person, you’ll likely put it in a secure drop box at an early voting site.

The state, in an effort to protect these boxes says they must be staffed by a law enforcement officer or a Supervisor of Elections employee at all hours.

“Having an armed security guard sitting next to the dropbox during off-hours, that might intimidate some voters,” said Patricia Brigham, President of the League of Women Voters of Florida.

The memo went out just five days before the start of early voting.

“Why are they just issuing this now?” said Brigham.

Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley already staffs his drop boxes, but said that isn’t necessarily the case statewide.

“Some people hadn’t planned on doing that because they maybe didn’t think that was necessary,” said Earley.

He is skeptical there is enough time for those supervisors to change their game plan.

“Trying to give guidance at the very last minute, it’s not real helpful,” said Earley. “It’s certainly going to be difficult to put that, ‘requirement’ out there at the very last minute yeah. We saw a need and so we started working on this weeks ago.”

The memo from the state suggested guarding drop boxes will prevent voter intimidation and possible vandalism of ballots.

And Earley said the state makes a decent point, since many drop boxes are outside this year because of the pandemic.

“But again it all kind of all depends on the situation that each county has at hand,” said Earley.

State statute does require drop boxes be staffed during operating hours if they are located at a site not officially designated for early voting.

Whether that rule applies to all drop boxes at all hours is where interpretations between supervisors and the state split.

We asked the Department of State if it has any enforcement authority if a supervisor does not staff a dropbox, but did not receive an answer in time for this story.