Fla. Dep’t of State delays campaign reporting, considers contingencies after Hurricane Ian
Fort Myers Beach. Image via AP.

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Secretary of State Cord Byrd is evaluating conditions in affected counties as important election deadlines loom.

Hurricane Ian has devastated the Southwest Florida coast and caused flooding or wind damage in much of the state, but another consideration for state officials is how now to best administer the upcoming Midterm Election.

County elections officials are required to send vote-by-mail ballots to voters between 40 days and 33 days before an election. This year, that window for the General Election falls between this past Thursday and the upcoming Thursday. That period also coincides with the critical first few days in the state’s recovery from Hurricane Ian.

In a statement to Florida Politics, Secretary of State Cord Byrd, the state’s top elections official, said he was considering possible responses to the damage, which is likely delaying election preparations at local Supervisors of Elections offices. Byrd also suspended the filing deadline for campaign finance reports until Oct. 7, delaying reports that would have been due Friday for another week.

“My primary concern and continued prayer right now is for the safety and well-being of Floridians, including Supervisors of Elections and their employees,” Byrd said.

“Hurricane Ian has torn across Florida causing devastating damage and loss. The Department of State has been calling Supervisors of Elections in the counties affected by the storm to assess the situation and will continue to monitor the impact of the storm. We 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.”

In an email to the Department of State and the Division of Elections sent Tuesday afternoon, Leon County Supervisor of Elections and Florida Supervisors of Elections President Mark Earley asked if the state had any plans to provide flexibility to counties impacted by Ian. Earley told Florida Politics he sent the correspondence because, as the association head representing the state’s 67 county election officials, he had not heard any update from state election officials.

Early considered the possibility of delivering ballots early, so they wouldn’t all be housed in central facilities that could be damaged. He also floated extending the window to allay fears of postal service interruptions altogether.

Several elections offices have shuttered ahead of Ian’s arrival. Among them is the Lee County Supervisor of Elections Office, which is closed at least through Friday.

While some counties might not see significant effects from the storm, they might contract with vendors elsewhere in the state that will.

“The entire state could be impacted in some way,” Earley told Florida Politics on Tuesday.

At least in Northwest Florida, which saw none of Hurricane Ian, operations seem to be flowing normally. On Thursday, Earley announced his office had started mailing vote-by-mail ballots.

“Over the course of the next week, my office will mail out over 63,000 Vote-by-Mail ballots to Leon County voters,” Earley said. “In addition, we have already sent out over 1,200 ballots to military and overseas voters so they have extra time to receive and return their ballot.”

It wouldn’t be the first time hurricanes have affected the election season. September is the historic peak of the Atlantic hurricane season, and Labor Day traditionally marks the final runup to Election Day.

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew struck Homestead the week before the Primary Election was set to take place. Gov. Lawton Chiles granted Dade County a one-week delay because of the devastation.

In 2004, Hurricane Charley damaged precinct infrastructure in Southwest Florida, and the National Guard set up “super-precinct” tents to accommodate Primary Election voters. Storms have also forced Supervisor offices to send election workers home.

But Ion Sancho, who was Leon County’s Supervisor of Elections from 1988 to 2016, told Florida Politics he did not recall a hurricane affecting mail-in voting in the 20 years since the Legislature mandated the option.

“The only worse possible time this could come is right before an election,” Sancho said.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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