Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning resigning after primary

Jan 11, 2012

The following article was published in the Tampa Tribune on January 11, 2012:

Fl. Secretary of State Resigning after Primary

By Gary Fineout

Florida’s elections chief is resigning from his job after the state’s Jan. 31 presidential primary.

Secretary of State Kurt Browning told Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday that he wants to go back to his home in Pasco County. Browning was the elections supervisor for that county for 26 years.

“It’s stressful every Sunday afternoon when you have to load up the car and head north,” Browning said.

Browning, 53, says he has no immediate plans, although he says he’s considering running for Pasco County school superintendent. His wife works as a school nurse for the district. His last day on the job will be Feb. 17.

“It’s not the reason I’m going home,” he added. “It’s to be with my wife, my family and my community.”

Browning was first tapped by former Gov. Charlie Crist as secretary of state. It marked the first time that the job was filled by someone with lengthy experience in running elections. Florida voters in 1998 changed the job of secretary of state from an elected position to an appointed one.

Browning worked for Crist from January 2007 until April 2010 when he retired as required under a state alternative retirement program that allows employees to draw retirement benefits as well as a full salary. But the Scott administration asked him to return in January 2011. He has been earning just under $140,000 a year.

“I commend his dedication to overseeing orderly, fair and error-free elections and ensuring Florida’s elections system is secure and defended from fraud,” Scott said in a statement about Browning’s departure. “

It was during Browning’s first go-round as secretary of state that Florida ditched touchscreen voting machines for most voters and shifted to optical scan machines that rely on paper ballots. Many urban counties had installed touchscreen machines in the wake of the chaotic 2000 presidential election that resulted in legal battles and recounts.

In his second stint, Browning has been responsible for defending a controversial election law passed last year by state legislators.

After lawmakers passed the bill – which put new limits on voter registration drives and reduced early voting days – Browning ordered that the law be put in place in most Florida counties. That was a departure from the past when the state had usually waited before putting new election laws in place because five counties in Florida require preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice because of past discrimination.

Browning initially asked the federal agency to approve the controversial provisions of the law. But then he withdrew that request and instead asked a federal court in Washington, D.C. to determine whether those provisions comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. He said he wanted the decision to be free of “outside influence.”

Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida and whose group has sharply criticized the new election law, said Browning shifted his approach to his job while working for Scott.

“The Kurt Browning of the Scott administration is not the Kurt Browning of the previous administration,” Simon said. “He’s been called on to be a cheerleader for the indefensible.”

Scott said on Wednesday that he already has a “short list” of potential replacements. He said it would be “helpful” If the next secretary of state had an elections background but added it also helps to have “people with new ideas.”

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