Chris Dawson, Attorney, GrayRobinson
It’s hard to discuss politics when so many of our fellow Floridians continue to suffer following Hurricane Ian. I hope each of you and your families were safe in the storm and that you’ve encountered minimal disruption. Our hearts continue to pour out to family, friends, colleagues and neighbors who have lost so much. They will continue to need our support in the months and years to come. I am fortunate to frequent Bay (Panama City and Mexico Beach) and Gulf (Port St. Joe and Cape San Blas) Counties for work and the scars from Hurricane Michael are everywhere, though they are healing. As we take a minute to talk about elections, let’s keep Florida’s Gulf Coast in our hearts and prayers.
The Show Goes On
In the immediate days following Ian, Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd – a former Republican House member from Jacksonville – quickly quelled rumors of a delay in November elections. At the time of publication for this article, tens of thousands of homes in Southwest Florida remain without power, barrier islands remain largely inaccessible and neighborhoods in Central Florida continue to be inundated by floodwaters. Election infrastructure didn’t escape Ian’s wrath either, as entire polling sites were wiped away while many others are still being used as temporary shelters. Elections supervisors are scrambling for backup plans and face an uphill climb to recruit volunteers and poll workers to replace those displaced by the storm. The task of holding a “normal” election in many precincts is – to put it mildly – daunting.
Déjà vu… and a Potential Roadmap
All hope of a successful election is not lost, however. In fact, we’ve been here before. Wind the clock back to mid-October 2018 and elections officials faced many of the same challenges in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. In that year, the two biggest changes made to ease hurricane-related woes were
1. Permission for Supervisors of Elections in affected counties to create county-wide voting “supercenters” for election day and
2. Relaxing some requirements for vote-by-mail voters to change their physical address for ballot delivery.
It’s unclear whether these specific solutions will be deployed this year, but they point to flexibility and ingenuity that may ease some of the challenges hurricane-stricken voters face. Officials from the Panhandle Supervisors of Elections offices have been on the ground in Southwest Florida or in direct contact with their state and local colleagues to share storm-weathered solutions. Read more.