Lee County voters just endured a Category 4 hurricane. But that doesn’t make election season any longer. Supervisor of Elections Tommy Doyle must still move forward with preparation for the Nov. 8 General Election, even though poll worker training has already been derailed and some polling locations have been reduced to rubble.
“It’s going to be difficult,” Doyle said. “But we do have a blueprint for disaster.”
Doyle sent a letter to the Division of Elections asking the state to authorize many of the steps Panhandle elections offices took after Hurricane Michael in 2018, and a few that elections officials wanted to do then. Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to issue an executive order as soon as today making clear what steps will be allowed.
Doyle has held conversations with other similarly impacted elections offices in Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee and Sarasota counties. All those regions suffered significant damage and have been declared by President Joe Biden as Major Disaster Areas.
None suffered as sweeping damages as Lee County. To date, Sanibel’s structures remain largely leveled, and there’s still no way to drive to the island. That could change — a temporary bridge now connects Pine Island to mainland Lee County that reopened ahead of schedule — but that doesn’t eliminate the personnel challenges Doyle faces.
This week on the pre-storm calendar had been dedicated to poll worker training. Now, Doyle wants permission to conduct the election without fully trained people at the polls. That said, he has a plan requiring far fewer people staffing precincts.
Doyle wants to cancel traditional polling location voting countywide this election and instead keep early voting sites open until 7 p.m. on Nov. 8. Among other things, that would reduce his required personnel from 1,400 poll workers to about 150.
Lee County’s early voting locations will all be open by the time of the election, Doyle said. He plans to use 12 sites: Cape Coral Library; Dr. Carrie D. Robinson Center; East County Regional Library; Estero Recreation Center; Fort Myers Regional Library; Lakes Regional Library; North Fort Myers Recreation Center; Northwest Regional Library; Veterans Park Recreation Center; and the Lee County Elections Center and branch offices in Cape Coral and Bonita Springs.
Doyle said all mail-in ballots have been sent out. While concerns remain about voters’ access to their own mailboxes, Doyle said many can pick up mail at their own post office. He also noted state law allows voters to obtain as many as three mail-in ballots to allow for spoilage, though once a ballot is collected that will be the only one an individual voter may cast.
He also wants the Governor to consider allowing fax machine voting in limited circumstances, something akin to the process used by military and overseas voters. Notably, this wasn’t granted in pre-Michael executive orders, though Bay County controversially allowed some displaced voters to vote this way.
That said, Doyle said he would only want faxed ballots, not email ballots.
But one thing is for sure: The election will continue. Doyle said there’s no way the election will be delayed because of the storm. With federal elections on the ballot that have Election Day prescribed in the U.S. Constitution, there’s no flexibility there. A delay hasn’t even been considered. “No chance,” Doyle said.