The Politics of Absentee Voting Rights – A Tension Between Values

The Politics of Absentee Voting Rights – A Tension Between Values

In many things in politics, as in life, there are inherent tensions between valid, but conflicting, values.

We have expressions for some of them. In parenting, for example, the tension between our affection for our children and our need to teach them responsibility has spawned the phrase “tough love.”

Many years ago, a similar societal tension between compassion and a desire to demand accountability and responsibility led George W. Bush to describe himself as a “compassionate conservative.”

Seen this way, many of our conflicts aren’t about absolutes, but about matters of degree. How far should we go toward the “Don’t worry about it” expression of forgiveness? How far should we go toward the “You made your bed, now lie in it” insistence on responsibility? Few probably reject all thought of forgiveness, and few would advocate letting all mistakes go without consequences.

A similar, though distinct, tension exists in our attitudes toward voting.

On the one hand, we recognize that voting is a right, akin to the right to speak, the right to believe as we choose, the right to worship as we choose, the right to be free of incarceration and the right to hold property.

On the other hand (and like all the other rights), we recognize that voting is an act that requires a degree of responsibility.

Both sides of this tension place burdens on government. Governments must ensure that citizens’ rights to vote are not denied. Governments also must ensure that elections are conducted in a responsible manner, to ensure that it is the votes of the people that actually determine the outcome.

It is in this light that I see the latest dustup between Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner and many of Florida’s elected county supervisors of elections.

Last month, Secretary Detzner issued a directive to restrict the collection of absentee ballots by drop off to the offices of the supervisors. This directly conflicted with the past efforts of many supervisors to facilitate drop off by using other sites (such as other county offices).

The response of many supervisors was strong and negative.  After all, they hadn’t expanded the options for drop off out of an irresponsible disregard for the validity of elections, but out of a desire to facilitate the exercise of citizens’ rights to vote. (One also senses a tug-of-war over the relative authority of the secretary of state and the county supervisors of elections.)

While for many counties the disagreement concerns elections that are months away, in Pinellas County, there’s a special election coming early next year, with a Republican primary in January, to fill a U.S. House seat. And Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark has been one of the more aggressive supervisors seeking to facilitate voter participation, providing multiple drop-off sites for absentee ballots.

On Monday, Supervisor Clark responded to Secretary Detzner with a resounding “no.” Yesterday, Secretary Detzner expressed his support for Supervisor Clark’s plan with some face-saving comments about improved security.

This time, it looks like the balance is being struck in favor of the exercise of the right to vote.

Is there more to this story? Absolutely. Stay tuned . . .

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2 Responses to The Politics of Absentee Voting Rights – A Tension Between Values

  • curtis a holmes

    I’ve read about the dispute between the various SoEs, especially Ms. Clark (Pinellas Co.) and the State. Both sides have merit but I think the fundamental issue isn’t, as the progressives claim, voter suppression but rather it’s voter fraud. Despite claims to the contrary the last presidential election there were locations fraught with fraud, i.e. Miami/Dade, Philly (some urban districts had 140% voter turnout) and more. I am aware of a group who is researching individuals who may have voted in multiple States and thus far they’ve found 70 people who voted in Pinellas Co and in NY State and another 50+ in NJ and Pinellas…and those were discovered on a quick look…digging has now begun. As the good doctor states, stay tuned.

    • Dr. Scott Paine

      Concern about voter fraud is reasonable, and I think you’ve identified one of the areas (dual registrations) where there certainly is potential and where we may not know much. But many of the allegations about 2012 have been found to be false, at least according to the research done at

      We need good data, of course. And we need to find that right balance. I’ll have more next week.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Curtis!