DeSantis accepts election changes for storm-hit region

The hurricane hit the state two weeks ago, causing catastrophic damage in some areas and killing more than 100 people. The hurricane also destroyed polling places, disrupted mail delivery and forced voters and poll workers from their homes in counties directly affected by the historic storm.

Many of the actions authorized by DeSantis mirror those taken in the Florida Panhandle in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in 2018. But they could draw additional scrutiny from those who have made baseless claims about the Widespread voter fraud that marred the 2020 election. Some of those pushing the allegations, including the conservative group Defend Florida, argued that people who voted did not live at their listed addresses.

But DeSantis – noting that some people have lost their homes and may be living with relatives – said there were still requirements for those looking to have a ballot mailed to a different address.

« You have to prove who you are, » he said. « It’s just not ballots in the ether. »

The three counties covered by DeSantis’ executive order are home to more than one million active registered voters, including more than 450,000 registered as Republicans. Lee County provided a 62,000-vote margin for DeSantis in the 2018 election when he narrowly edged out Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum.

DeSantis is slated for re-election this year and has led his Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist, in the polls and money.

DeSantis’ executive order would allow election supervisors in those counties to set up so-called super-voting centers instead of trying to maintain polling places for individual precincts. Early voting, which by law is supposed to end on the Sunday before Election Day, would be extended until November 8. And the executive order would allow supervisors to move drop boxes from previously announced locations.

The executive order also suspends some of the requirements for election officials and grants furlough to state officials who agree to act as election officials.

Sarasota County Elections Supervisor Rob Turner, who said a small number of polling places in his county would be unavailable on Election Day, said in a statement he was ‘grateful’ for the changes. authorized by the governor so that all eligible voters can vote.

« Given the level of upheaval that has occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, one of our office’s primary goals is to keep the voting process as ‘normal’ as possible, » Turner said. « This means continuing to make the process of voting by mail and early voting accessible while ensuring that all voters who vote on Election Day can do so easily and efficiently. »

The governor’s action comes two days after a coalition of voting and civil rights groups asked DeSantis for a series of changes, including expanding early voting and consolidating polling places.

Brad Ashwell, Florida director of All Voting is Local, a group that lobbies for increased voting access, said the executive order « provides a few important steps » for those in the three counties.

But Ashwell asked about using poll workers who weren’t recently trained and why the order was limited to just three counties.

“State officials must do more to ensure voting access after one of the worst natural disasters in US history,” Ashwell said. “Voters in any storm-affected county in Florida, not just the three where local election officials have requested assistance, deserve more time and resources to vote properly. The state must consider the needs of voters statewide, not just the needs of election supervisors in a few counties.

DeSantis, however, maintained that election officials in other counties told the state they had « covered everything. »


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