TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (The News Service of Florida) - Florida eased restrictions Thursday on vote-by-mail ballots in eight counties ravaged last week by Hurricane Michael, while also giving elections supervisors more time to conduct early voting.
The changes included in an executive order by Governor Rick Scott were requested by local supervisors and are intended to help displaced voters in Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Jackson, Liberty, and Washington counties.
More than a week after the Oct. 10 landfall of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, the eight counties continue to grapple with problems such as power outages.
As of Thursday morning, for example, power was still out to 97 percent of Calhoun County and 81 percent of Jackson County, according to the state Division of Emergency Management.
As part of Scott’s executive order, voters in the eight counties will be able to request, through telephone calls or in writing, for vote-by-mail ballots to be mailed to addresses that don’t match the voters’ addresses in the Florida Voter Registration System.
The executive order will also allow the counties to continue early voting through Election Day. Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley said precinct locations and early-voting sites throughout the hurricane-wracked counties have been destroyed.
“Poll workers have uncertain housing challenges there. There are challenges just getting water and food there, certainly. One of the biggest problems we are encountering is communications within some of these counties," said Earley. "The cell phone towers are out. The internet is out. There are a lot of communications issues that we are trying to overcome.”
The changes do not include allowing voters to cast ballots by fax or email.
The eight counties, which have been a solid voting bloc for Republicans in state races, include more than 223,000 registered voters as of the August primaries.
Roughly 43 percent of the voters were registered as Republicans, while 40 percent were Democrats and 17 percent were independents or registered with third parties.