As Lee County continues to recover from Hurricane Ian, municipal elections are still creeping up. Secretary of State Cord Byrd announced local elections offices can utilize some emergency procedures to ensure citizens can vote in March elections in Sanibel and Estero.
Byrd issued an executive order focused on vote-by-mail, lifting restrictions on forwarding ballots or having them sent to alternative addresses.
“Displaced residents of Lee County Florida have experienced long-term effects as a result of Hurricane Ian,” Byrd said. “In an effort to help the voters in Lee County, the Department of State wants to ensure that we make the necessary accommodations to give voters who have been displaced an adequate opportunity to cast their ballot.”
The measures are intended to help those permanently or temporarily displaced from their homes by the storm.
State law normally prohibits vote-by-mail ballots from being forwarded to a new address. For only the elections in Sanibel and Estero, that restriction won’t apply with ballots sent out by the Lee County Supervisor of Elections Office.
A new law also requires voters to make new requests this year for vote-by-mail ballots to be sent to their home. While those ballots can only be sent to a verified permanent address under normal circumstances, Byrd’s order allows voters registered to vote in the Estero and Sanibel contests to request the ballots be sent to another address.
The executive order leaves it to Supervisor of Elections Tommy Doyle’s discretion whether to accept a request to have the ballot sent to an alternative address.
Both Lee County municipalities have elections scheduled for March 7.
In the Village of Estero, Council elections are scheduled for Districts 3, 4, 5 and 7. But only the District 5 race had more than one candidate qualify. Gary Israel and Ralph Lopez are both running for the open seat.
Meanwhile, incumbent Jon Michael McLain was already re-elected unopposed in District 3, Lori Fayhee won without opposition in District 4 and George Zalucki faces no other challenger in District 7.
Sanibel holds at large elections where a number of candidates file and run in a field for multiple seats. Four candidates qualified to run for two Council seats up for grabs. Candidates include Richard Johnson, Jude Sincoskie, Holly Smith and Troy Thompson. Johnson and Smith are incumbents.
Peter Skopec, the Director of Advocacy for Secure Democracy Foundation, praised Byrd’s emergency order in a news release.
“Voters across Lee County can breathe a little easier knowing that they’ll be able to receive their mail ballot ahead of several upcoming municipal elections in March. Today’s order will guarantee that even those displaced by Hurricane Ian will be able to participate in our elections,” he said.
“We applaud Secretary of State Cord Byrd for taking decisive action to protect mail voting — a popular and reliable option used by millions across Florida. We also applaud Lee County Supervisor Tommy Doyle for advocating on behalf of his community to ensure that even amid an ongoing recovery from a devastating storm, voters can still request and receive a mail ballot at a forwarded address.”