Science and TechNatural Disasters


Hurricane Ian Could Cause Logistical Headaches For Florida Voters

State election workers are putting together a plan, one they say is constantly evolving to make sure voting is accessible in their counties.
Posted at 9:11 PM, Oct 07, 2022

As Floridians continue to pick up the pieces from Hurricane Ian, they're staring down a timeline many are probably not thinking about amid the rubble and loss.  

Election Day is just about a month away. 

"This has been so catastrophic," Political Science Professor Sharon Austin said. "And then, not only that, but we have to think about the mental toll that's been taken on people who have lost everything. They are not as motivated to vote, because they are so preoccupied with so many other things."

But state election workers are putting together a plan — one they say is constantly evolving to make sure voting is accessible in their counties. Austin says delaying is not really an option. 

"The damage is so widespread, that even if they delayed a month, it's gonna take a lot longer than a month to be able to correct the many problems that are there in the areas that were most affected," Austin said. 

Ron Turner, elections supervisor in Sarasota County, says they're "still trying to figure out the impacts." He spoke to Newsy from his office, which is still missing ceiling tiles from the storm. He initially planned to send out 120,000 absentee ballots the day after the storm hit. But of course, some people didn't have power, much less access to the Postal Service. So he delayed until October 4. 

"Some people may not have a mailbox," he said. "I don't have a mailbox right now. Mine was blown down from the hurricane."

If people are still without mail service, he says the post office will hold their mail for 10 days. Sarasota County is also trying to create more flexibility and is encouraging people to consider their options. 

"We're getting vote by mail requests now round the clock, especially if someone's displaced," Turner said. "They're all equally good methods by mail, which is just an absentee ballot in Florida. Early in person voting — We're gonna have two weeks of early in person voting at nine sites... And then the traditional polling locations as best we can provide them on Election Day."

Turner considers his situation one of the fortunate ones, with the southern part of the county seeing the brunt of the storm but not a full decimation, like his neighbors in Lee County, where more than 81,000 are still without power. 

His counterpart there — Thomas Doyle — said in a statement: "Loss or structural damage to our offices, Early Voting sites, and Election Day polling locations is evident... For many voters, their regular polling location will not be available."

The state is home to some of the country's most important races this fall, including Gov. Ron DeSantis' re-election campaign against Democrat Charlie Crist, and a Senate race between incumbent Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Val Demings. 

DeSantis can order some changes, like when then-Gov. Rick Scott created "super" polling sites in 2018 after Hurricane Michael. 

But the governor may have his hands tied by some legislation he signed into law, including restrictions on drop boxes and vote by mail. There is also a limit to the number of ballots you can collect and turn in on behalf of someone.  

For many of Florida's voters, election fairness is a paramount concern. Turner says it's as much of a priority as it was before the storm. 

"We will make sure it's secure," he said. "But we'll also make sure that this election is accessible to our voters and Sarasota County. And I'm sure that my colleagues will do the same."