IMPORTANT MESSAGE TO LEE COUNTY VOTERS
Election administration has firm deadlines upheld in federal and state law. Logistics in holding a General Election on the statutorily designated day at voting sites require months of planning and coordination. We must obtain and allocate resources, secure and schedule workers and staff sites, and transport equipment and materials. Other factors include advertising, production and distribution of voter mailings, internal and external security assessments, and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act at voting sites.
Before Hurricane Ian made landfall in Lee County, this office was ready to conduct the November 8 General Election. Early Voting and Election Day voting locations were secured and prepared to be staffed with sufficient coverage throughout the Early Voting period and on Election Day. Our dedicated staff and poll workers were available and ready to serve the citizens of Lee County.
Following the aftermath and devastation of Hurricane Ian in Lee County, our ability to administer the November 8 General Election was significantly impacted in ways that would not permit us to conduct the election in the manner to which voters are typically accustomed.
We want Lee County voters to know that the decisions we made concerning election administration for the General Election were given serious consideration.
Under the circumstances faced at the time, decisions concerning managing the election amid numerous unknowns had to be made quickly to ensure the election would take place as scheduled, while being carried out securely and transparently.
We immediately began assessing the availability of staff and the impact of Hurricane Ian on their ability to return to work. Next, we evaluated the availability of our existing Early Voting sites, polling place locations, and election workers.
Like many in Lee County, the residences, vehicles and personal belongings of our staff and election workers sustained significant damage or were completely lost. Available staff arrived for work on October 2, four days following the hurricane. Staff and temporary election support workers who were not displaced by the hurricane reported to work daily. Though their homes were without electricity or water, they worked tirelessly to ensure we continued every effort to prepare for the election under unprecedented circumstances.
Due to issues related to plumbing, electricity, debris, and parking, our offices did not reopen to the public until October 12. While our offices were closed, our website was operational for those who still had Internet service and could access online services such as registering to vote, requesting a Vote-by-mail Ballot, or updating a voter record. Our telephone lines were open for those who did not have Internet service. Elections Office staff was available to field calls and offered guidance for services that could not be completed online if the caller did not have Internet access.
Election Day polling places are closed for several reasons as detailed below.
After the storm, Lee County poll workers already scheduled to work had evacuated from the county or suffered significant losses that would not permit them to work. As a result, poll worker availability was reduced to half those originally expected to work during Early Voting and on Election Day in the November 8 General Election.
We encountered difficulty contacting polling places and Early Voting sites to determine whether they were still available or damaged. Based on our contacts, we established that of 97 Election Day polling locations, 25 were available, 14 were unavailable, and 58 were unsure and could not commit to availability for the November 8 General Election. Many that were not visibly damaged had no air conditioning, roof leaks, plumbing, parking, and debris issues. Due to the devastation caused by Hurricane Ian so close to the election, we did not have the resources to staff or ensure facilities were suitable for use. Some Early Voting sites were unavailable due to damage or were being used as staging areas for emergency responders or human services.
We knew that we had to get voting sites in place immediately. Early Voting was scheduled to begin on October 24, within three weeks following the storm, and Election Day was in four weeks.
Limited resources, statutory restrictions, and time constraints to mass coordinate and duplicate efforts that before the hurricane were in place or underway warranted that this office request an Executive Order from Governor Ron DeSantis. The Executive Order was necessary to expedite election operations and allow Supervisors of Elections in the affected counties more flexibility in the administration of the upcoming election based on the resources available to them.
Governor DeSantis signed Executive Order Number 22-234 on October 12. The Executive Order extended the number of days for Early Voting, and provided that the Early Voting period could begin as early as Monday, October 24, and extend through Election Day, November 8.
Under normal circumstances, per Florida Law, voters must vote at their assigned precinct on Election Day. Due to the extraordinary number of people displaced by Hurricane Ian in Lee County, voters attempting to vote on Election Day at a precinct in an area of the county they did not reside would be required to vote a Provisional Ballot. Consistent with Florida Law, a Provisional Ballot cast in this scenario would not be counted.
Due to the uncertainty of the availability of Election Day voting sites and sufficient poll workers to staff those sites, we implemented an election model for the November 8 General Election that would allow voters to vote at any of the 12 established Early Voting sites from October 24 through Election Day regardless of their assigned precinct.
We understand that Election Day voting at any of the 12 available Early Voting sites may inconvenience some voters. We have been proactive in encouraging voters to request a Vote-by-Mail ballot if Election Day voting at an Early Voting site is inconvenient. Since it is past the deadline to mail a Vote-by-Mail ballot, voters still have the option to pick up a ballot at any of our offices until 6:00 p.m., Monday, November 7.
A voter may drop off their voted Vote-by-Mail ballot at any authorized Secure Ballot Intake Station. Secure Ballot Intake Stations will be available at all Lee County Early Voting sites from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., through Monday, November 7. On Election Day, Tuesday, November 8, Secure Ballot Intake Stations will only be available at Lee County Supervisor of Elections offices.
Under Florida Law, on Election Day, a Vote-by-Mail ballot may only be issued to a voter if an emergency exists. Please call the office if you have an emergency and need to pick up a Vote-by-Mail ballot on Election Day.