Hurricane Michael left behind a path of major destruction and death when it slammed into the Florida Panhandle near Mexico Beach just over a week ago. The Category 4 hurricane wiped out communities and disrupted the lives of residents in the Florida Panhandle. With the November election less than three weeks away, the storm has greatly impacted the ability of local election officials in that part of the state to conduct a normal election.
The Florida Division of Elections has been talking with local election supervisors in the impacted areas in an effort to ensure all Florida voters are guaranteed the opportunity to cast their ballots in next month’s election.
State elections officials released a plan Thursday to help the local counties to be able to conduct an election. Gov. Rick Scott issued an Executive Order 18-283 which gives Supervisors of Elections in Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Jackson, Liberty, and Washington counties “the authority to extend and enhance voting options based on needs and challenges they have identified.”
“The Department shares the Governor’s commitment to ensuring that all registered voters from counties devastated by Hurricane Michael are able to exercise their right to vote safely and securely in the upcoming General Election,” said Secretary of State Ken Detzner. “With the input from local Supervisors of Elections, we put forth recommendations to Governor Scott and we greatly appreciate the Governor’s support of our requests.”
The plan gives local election officials the authority to extend the amount of days of early voting, designate additional early voting locations and expedite the delivery and acceptance of vote-by-mail ballots.
The counties in the affected areas report that while voting machines weren’t damaged, there are significant obstacles caused by the hurricane that make it difficult to carry out an election, including: damage to polling locations, extended telecommunications service disruptions, and large percentages of the counties’ population without power.
Local election officials in the eight county area will be given authority to determine if additional early voting sites and days are necessary. The early voting period in the affected counties can begin as early as Monday, October 22, and can extend through election day November 6.
The executive order gives Detzner authority to work with election supervisors to ensure Florida National Guard troops, first responders, utility crews and others working on recovery efforts, as well as residents who evacuated the area, are able to cast a ballot in next month’s election.
Restrictions on obtaining and submitting vote-by-mail ballots are being amended to allow voters impacted by the storm to be able to vote via the mail. The state will also extend the registration deadlines for registering poll watchers.
State election officials say voting by facsimile or email is not an option given the current power and communications outages, as well as security issues.
The state is also working with the United States Postal Service to ensure that vote-by-mail ballots are delivered to voters and are submitted back to local election officials.