Election changes urged in Florida areas ravaged by Hurricane Michael

click to enlarge Election changes urged in Florida areas ravaged by Hurricane Michael
Photo via NOAA
Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux, who serves as president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, wants the state to consider changes for the general election —- from emailed vote-by-mail ballots to combining precincts —- to help people directly affected by Hurricane Michael.

Noting polling places may not be available and that some poll workers might not have returned to their homes, Lux in an email Sunday to Secretary of State Ken Detzner urged the creation of “mega-precincts” for election day.

Detzner, the state’s chief elections official, advised Lux he wanted to hear firsthand from county supervisors of election before making decisions. Detzner made a similar comment to the media on Monday.

In a separate email, Lux noted that Madison County Supervisor of Elections Tommy Hardee has delivered gas and other supplies to election officials in Calhoun and Liberty counties, which are running on generators. He also noted that the supervisor’s office in Gulf County “miraculously, survived basically unscathed,” while in Bay County, which has been offline, the voting equipment “is okay and their early voting equipment and supplies are still ready to deploy.”

“It sounds as if most of the hardest-hit counties fared pretty well considering the utter devastation around them,” Lux wrote. “Many are without power and are likely to remain so for weeks to come; but most have generators filling that gap. Connectivity continues to be the biggest problem.”

Among his suggestions, Lux said the state should consider emailed vote-by-mail ballots for non-military evacuees and deployed power workers. For people who have lost forms of identification, Lux would like voters to get regular ballots rather than provisional ballots if provisional ballot materials are in short supply in impacted counties.

Also, Lux asked if there is a way the counties that have taken in nursing-home residents can deliver the correct ballots in local facilities.

Early voting statewide runs from Oct. 27 to Nov. 3, though county supervisors can add some extra days.

As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 453,000 people statewide had cast vote-by-mail ballots for the election, including 166,409 ballots cast by Democrats and 205,297 by Republicans. Hard-hit Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Liberty and Washington counties haven’t updated their vote-by-mail numbers since before Michael came ashore.

The deadline to register to vote in the November election was Oct. 9 —- the day before Michael made landfall in Mexico Beach and tore through parts of Northwest Florida.

Detzner has granted a partial extension of the voter-registration deadline in counties where elections offices were closed Oct. 9. Those counties will be able to accept paper voter-registration applications on the day they reopen. Detzner did not extend an Oct. 9 deadline for registering to vote online.