TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Running an election in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian is going to be a monumental challenge for elections officials in the Florida counties hit hardest by the storm as they face poll worker shortages, damaged polling places and voters who lost their homes.
With a month to go, county election supervisors in Southwest Florida and other parts of the state that suffered the most from Ian lost a full week of prep time and are now in the early stages of assessing the damage.
“I want to keep it as normal as humanly possible. I think the more you depart, the more it makes problems,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday, speaking at a news conference near Pine Island in Lee County, moments before he left to meet with President Biden.
Lee County bore the brunt of Hurricane Ian, which made landfall in Cayo Costa, destroyed 80% of the structures on Fort Myers Beach, wiped out causeways and bridges and flooded downtown Fort Myers.
Ian damaged elections offices, early voting sites and election day polling locations, Lee County Elections Supervisor Tommy Doyle said. The branch offices in Bonita Springs, Cape Coral were closed until further notice, and the pre-canvassing and poll worker training classes were canceled.
“We want voters to be confident that we are working hard to ensure they can safely, securely, and efficiently cast their ballots in the upcoming election,” Doyle told voters this week.
For many voters, though, their regular polling location will not be available on Nov. 8, which is Election Day, he said.
For Lee County and Charlotte County, which also saw severe flooding from Ian, DeSantis said, “there may be need for accommodations,” mentioning a decision by Sen. Rick Scott, who was governor when Hurricane Michael struck the Panhandle on Oct. 10, 2018.
Scott issued an executive order allowing Bay County to set up super-voting sites where precincts were destroyed and extended early voting through the weekend before Election Day.
Bay County Supervisor of Elections Mark Anderson called them “voting sites on steroids” because of their ability to process so many more voters than a traditional polling precinct.