Florida Officials Still Trying to Determine Way Forward After Ian
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — With the clock ticking ever closer to Election Day, Florida election officials are continuing to tally damage and disruption assessments due to Hurricane Ian and charting a course to a fair and secure election.
In an email to The Well News, Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley, who is also the current president of the statewide association that represents the state’s local election officials, said, “it appears all counties survived the most damaging impacts to their elections offices and warehouses.”
“Voting machines, supplies, and staff are all safe and sound,” he said.
But that does not mean the damage caused as the Category 4 hurricane raked across the state hasn’t caused a host of potential problems.
“It is still early in the assessment phase for the counties most impacted,” Earley said.
And while election offices were spared, “that cannot be said for other structures that are integral to in-person voting such as early voting and Election Day polling sites,” he said.
“Also, the availability of poll workers will be impacted, and many voters and first responders are no longer in their home counties,” he added.
The bottom line, Earley said, is “many counties are going to be impacted in some manner, whether they took a direct hit or not.”
As reported by The Well News over the weekend, there was initially some fear that the hurricane would disrupt the distribution of mail-in ballots, the deadline for which is Thursday.
However, Earley said based on what he’s hearing from other election officials, that deadline will likely not be missed.
The next hurdle to overcome will be voter registration, as the last day to register to vote in Florida is Oct. 11. After that, the next test will be early voting, which is currently scheduled to begin on Oct. 24.
One location in Florida where election officials will surely be tested is Lee County, home to the city of Fort Myers, which bore the brunt of Ian’s fury.
In an email to other elections supervisors last week, Lee County Supervisor of Elections Tommy Doyle said, “Lee County is devastated.”
So far, the death toll from Ian in that county alone stands at 55, and dozens of people remain missing.
In addition, catastrophic damage to homes, businesses and local infrastructure is evident almost everywhere in the 1,200-square-mile county.
At the same time, it is the epicenter for power outages in the state. As of Wednesday morning, a total 313,467 homes and businesses were still without power, according to PowerOutage.us.
Officials said it might be well into the weekend before power is restored.
If there’s a bright spot in all this, it is the attitude displayed by D. Alan Hays, supervisor of elections in Lake County, Florida.
In his own email to The Well News, Hays said his county, which is located in central Florida, west of Orlando, had been “spared the negative effects of the storm.”
“The path of destruction is south and east of our location. Thus our operations haven’t been negatively affected at all,” he said.
Hays said because of Lake County’s good fortune, “We are ready to [assist] our colleagues who have been damaged.
“We are ready to loan or give them anything they might need if we have the abundance to do so,” he said.