Joe Henderson: Bay County voters show need for expanded options
Mexico Beach residents vow they will rebuild. (Image via USA TODAY)


It’s wonderful that while dealing with the catastrophe wrought by Hurricane Michael, more than 140 Bay County voters did their civic duty and found a way to cast a ballot in this election. Each one deserves some kind of citizenship medal and to be held up as positive examples to any slug who couldn’t be bothered to get off the couch.

And then, alas, their votes need to be disqualified. They were submitted by email or fax, and that’s not allowed under Florida law.

Look, I get it — this was an extraordinary circumstance and Bay County Supervisor of Elections Mark Anderson was doing what he could to help those citizens regain a piece of normal by allowing them to vote. As he told Florida Politics, “This office’s job is to ensure voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots.”

But the votes have to be cast within the rules, and those weren’t.

I have a suggestion going forward, though: Change the rules.

At least seriously explore alternatives to traditional ballots.

No, I’m not saying to let Fred from the hardware store send a fax or drop off a Post-it Note with some names scribbled on and call that his ballot. I am saying it’s time that Florida revisits the way elections are conducted and tabulated (yeah, I’m looking at you, Broward County) and get with the times.

It would take some major investment in security, but maybe it’s time to explore electronic voting. Banking is done online. Our 401(k) accounts can be administered online. You can register online to vote.

Our whole lives are stored somewhere in the Cloud.

Why would it be unreasonable to believe voting couldn’t be safely and securely done online? I mean, Russia seemed to pull it off (rimshot…..).

But seriously, we already have vote-by-mail (which, full disclosure, I use) and think of the number of things that can wrong there (but rarely does).

Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Utah and the District of Columbia already use e-ballots in limited forms.

The Florida Department of State actually studied this issue recently as a way for overseas military personnel to cast their ballots, but nothing has happened.

The case in Bay County highlights the need for a permanent policy to deal with the aftermath storms like Hurricane Michael. It puts enormous pressure on local communities to conduct fair elections when Mother Nature herself has been anything but fair.

I don’t question that Mark Andersen had great intentions in allowing people to vote basically however they could. It was the humanitarian thing to do, and maybe in a relatively small area you could get away with something similar.

But what happens if the next hurricane disrupts a large county like Hillsborough? Or Orange? Or, gulp, Broward?

Roads could be impassable. People’s cars could be squashed under fallen oak trees. Voters might have fled to a safer state and can’t get back in time to vote, but still want to have their say.

Obviously, many things can go haywire with online voting, and I’m not suggesting it replace traditional polling places and mail-in ballots. For many people, going to the polls on Election Day somehow gives them a higher sense of civic accomplishment.

As Bay County voters have shown though, Florida needs more options. People are just trying to vote, and the state needs to figure out more ways to let them do that.

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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