Florida election supervisors scramble to get power back ahead of mail-in ballot deadline

DeSantis is being asked to sign an order to allow central voting sites.

September 30, 2022, 9:18 PM

Florida election supervisors are scrambling after Hurricane Ian to get the power back on at their offices in order to meet next week's deadline to send out mail-in-ballots.

Tommy Doyle, the elections supervisor of Lee County, one of the hardest-hit areas in the state, said he has worked nonstop to coordinate with Florida's largest power utility in the wake of the storm.

"My office has no power, no water," Doyle told ABC News. "In order to conduct elections and do what you need to do, you need the internet and you need power — and we don't have that right now."

Lee County includes Fort Myers Beach and the barrier islands, which are among the places that were most devastated by Hurricane Ian — the fifth-strongest hurricane to make landfall in the U.S., according to the National Hurricane Center.

PHOTO: A vote-by-mail ballot envelope is shown to the media at the Miami-Dade Election Department headquarters, July 21, 2022, in Miami.
A vote-by-mail ballot envelope is shown to the media at the Miami-Dade Election Department headquarters, July 21, 2022, in Miami.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

It's also a county that depends on mail-in voting. Residents there have already requested about 180,000 mail-in ballots, Doyle said. In past elections, he added, mail-in ballots have represented about 50% of the total general election vote in Lee County.

Doyle spent most of Friday on the phone with engineers from Florida Power & Light, the state's power utility, to request assistance with returning power to the county's ballot- printing site.

In between those calls, Doyle helped his son remove items from his family's flooded Fort Myers home — one of hundreds in the area that were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Ian, and one of 2.3 million statewide without power.

"Unfortunately, we got to think about voting. A lot of people aren't thinking about that right now," Doyle said. "They're dealing with personal issues, trying to salvage their life."

"I have to put my gears in high gear and get it done," he added. "And that's what we'll do."

PHOTO: A boat sits in the middle of a street in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers, Fla., Sept. 29. 2022.
A boat sits in the middle of a street in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers, Fla., Sept. 29. 2022.
Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images

Florida is still in the early stages of exploring different options. Mark Earley, the Leon County elections supervisor and president of the Florida election supervisor association, said he was optimistic that ballots in all affected counties would be mailed out by Oct. 6, a statutory requirement of the Florida Constitution. Earley said he personally plans to haul a power generator on Saturday to one election office in central Florida to aid in the effort.

But with just 39 days until the midterm elections, he said there are many other storm-related issues that his group of supervisors must now worry about. For one: how to get ballots to first responders working outside of their counties, and to residents who have been displaced.

PHOTO: A first responder with Orange County Fire Rescue makes her way through floodwaters looking for residents of a neighborhood needing help in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Orlando, FLa., Sept. 29, 2022.
A first responder with Orange County Fire Rescue makes her way through floodwaters looking for residents of a neighborhood needing help in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Orlando, FLa., Sept. 29, 2022.
Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP

Another challenge, especially in Lee County, is how Florida will deal with damaged polling sites. Voters must go to their designated polling precinct on Election Day —but what if that site is no longer in service?

Earley said the state has the power to approve super polling sites, or centralized locations where any voter in the county can cast their ballots.

In 2018, Sen. Rick Scott, then the governor of Florida, signed an executive order to allow super polling sites in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael ahead of that year's midterms.

Doyle said Lee County will need a similar executive order this fall from Gov. Ron DeSantis.

"We have places like Sanibel, Captiva [where] the bridges are blown out. You can't even go over there," Doyle said of the barrier islands that were leveled by the storm. "A lot of residents have evacuated there, so they can't even vote in their precincts."

DeSantis' office referred all questions about such an executive order to the Florida Department of State.

"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," Secretary of State Corey Byrd said in a statement to ABC News.

"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," he added.

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