Elections officials in portions of Florida hard hit by Hurricane Ian are scrambling to meet a fast-approaching deadline to begin sending out absentee ballots and are working to develop contingency plans for November’s general election.
In Lee County, Florida – home to Fort Myers, which saw homes and businesses torn apart and flooded this week by the powerful storm – Elections Supervisor Tommy Doyle said the county’s election equipment and voting material survived Ian, but his facilities lack power.
At least one person on his 45-member, full-time team lost her home.
An immediate priority, he told CNN on Friday, was ensuring that the county would meet Thursday’s deadline under state law to mail out some 180,000 absentee ballots to Florida residents who have already requested them. The Bonita Springs, Florida, vendor handling the work had completed about half the project when the storm hit, Doyle said, but currently lacks electrical power to finish the job.
If the power is not restored by Sunday, Doyle said he plans to shift the work to the east coast of the state in an effort to meet the deadline.
Leon County Elections Supervisor Mark Earley, who is president of the state association for Florida’s 67 election supervisors, said counties affected by the hurricane are still “assessing the situation,” but said their main offices and warehouses “survived intact and remarkably well.”
He said most expect to meet the October 6 deadline for sending out the early batch of mail ballots previously requested by voters.
Officials, however, will have to come up with contingency plans, especially in Lee County, for in-person voting later this fall, following the likely destruction of polling places, he said.
Earley said those options include establishing consolidated voting centers and encouraging Floridians displaced by the storm to vote by mail. Florida’s deadline to request a vote-by-mail ballot is October 29.
In a statement provided to CNN, Florida Secretary of State Cord Boyd said state officials “are considering all contingencies at the moment and will be in continual contact with Supervisors of Elections to evaluate the conditions of the affected counties moving forward.”
Cecile Scoon, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, said her group will want to ensure that any new, in-person voting locations still serve underrepresented communities.