Hurricane-ravaged Panhandle could face election difficulties

Published: Oct. 16, 2018 at 4:33 PM EDT
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By: Mike Vasilinda | Capitol News Service

October 16, 2018

BLOUNTSTOWN, Fla. (CNS) -- Nine of the counties hardest hit by Hurricane Michael have played a significant role in the outcome of statewide elections.

But, voters will face hurdles when early voting begins next Monday.

Traffic was backed up for more than three miles with relief workers, volunteers and displaced residents, a rarity in downtown Blountstown, the county seat for Calhoun County.

Elections Supervisor Sharon Chason says mail ballots pose a particular problem.

“There’s no way a postal carrier can get into probably half of, more than half of the county,” said Chason.

The damaged counties play an important role in statewide elections.

Donald Trump got nearly 79,000 votes, equating to 69 percent of his margin of victory. Rick Scott won in 2014 by just over 64,000 votes. The nine counties accounted for 70 percent of his margin of victory.

Both major parties have something to worry about.

“We’ve got a whole set of people who are relocating,” said Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum. “And my guess is voting isn’t at the top of their agenda right now.”

Florida statute 101.733 allows the governor to suspend or delay an election for up to 10 days, but supervisors in the hardest-hit areas say that won’t be necessary.

“Folks that are involved, the counties, the supervisors, are working 24/7 to try to make sure they can meet the demands of the election and the voters in their counties,” said Rob Labasky with the Florida State Association of Elections Supervisors.

Early voting starts Monday, but making that happen won’t be easy for supervisors or voters.

Under Florida law, any registered voter can vote anywhere in the state during early voting or on election day. That includes displaced residents or relief workers away from home. Simply change you address at any polling place in the county where you have re-located.