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Detzner Takes Heat for Online Registration

Flrida Department of State

Secretary of State Ken Detzner sees a train wreck if the Legislature forces online voter registration by 2017. But rather than derail the bill, lawmakers are tying the state’s elections chief to the tracks.

Here’s Republican Senator Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth, a prime sponsor.

“I would just like the rest of the committee know that in many states they’ve implemented this type of online voter registration application in four months. I’m giving him two and half years here.”

Republican Senator Don Gaetz of Niceville, frustrated that Detzner has changed his position on the bill, asked about a rumor that Detzner’s taking instructions from his boss, Governor Rick Scott.

“Have you had any direction from the governor’s office or anyone else that influenced you to change your position, and say we shouldn’t do this and we shouldn’t pass this bill?”

Detzner says he’s discussed it with Scott, but hasn’t been told to put on the brakes.

Detzner says he’s too busy with a major overhaul of his computer system. Add another assignment, Detzner says, and next year’s presidential election could break down.

“There is a flashing yellow light with regard to planning implementation, which is why I’m taking this position today.”

But what Detzner is calling a challenge is really an opportunity, says Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho.

“Excuse me. Why don’t you, while you’re doing that, put in the capacity to deal with this? Why don’t you do it together?”

Lawmakers are frustrated that Florida is behind the times when it comes to electronic registration. Twenty three states, including California, have an online process, according the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Arizona was the first in 2002. The cost of a paper registration fell from 83 cents to 3 cents, according to NCSL. The same study shows there are no reports of security breaches.

But that hasn’t always been the case. Okaloosa participated in a federal pilot program in 1994, called SERVE, for Project for Secure and Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment. The government should have chosen another name, says  Okaloosa Supervisor Paul Lux.

“The SERVE Project got cancelled because the white hat hackers that they hired wrote a report that said the system wasn’t secure.”

Voters can register at recruiting sights, social service centers, with election supervisors. But most do when they get their driver licenses.

Leon supervisor Sancho says that needs to change.

“This actually will make the process more accurate, there will be fewer human errors in terms of imputing and that will mean fewer frustrated citizens.”

A Senate version of the bill has yet to reach the floor.

A Miami native, former WFSU reporter Jim Ash is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, most of it in print. He has been a member of the Florida Capital Press Corps since 1992.