DeSantis changes voting rules for some Fla. Counties taken by Ian

Government. Ron DeSantis is making it easier for voters to vote in three southwest Florida counties hard-hit by Hurricane Ian and are bastions of support for the GOP, prompting criticism that he’s “politicizing a natural disaster.”

More than 1 million voters in Charlotte, Sarasota and Lee counties will have more time to vote early in the upcoming general election and more opportunities to submit a ballot-by-mail under the order signed by the Republican governor on Wednesday .

Some of the accommodations offered violate recent election laws pushed by DeSantis and passed by the GOP-led state legislature. Among those laws is one that restricts drop boxes, which the law calls “ballot pick-up stations.”

Under the order, election officials in the three boroughs will be able to set up new early voting and dropbox locations. Mail ballots can also be mailed to an address other than that at which the voter is registered.

“Tens of thousands of Floridians have been displaced, and today’s executive order does not fulfill the moment and does not ensure that all voters in Florida are granted voting access,” said Jasmine Burney-Clark, founder of voter rights organization Equal Ground, in a statement. “Instead, Governor DeSantis is politicizing a natural disaster.”

Hurricane Ian made landfall in Lee County on September 28 as a Category 4 storm, killing over 100 people and causing over $75 billion in damage. The Federal Emergency Management Agency offered disaster relief to 24 of the state’s 67 counties. Wind, storm surge, and flooding left a trail of destruction in its wake that stretched from Naples to St. Augustine.

DeSantis’ emergency order states that the decision to change election rules for just three counties was “made based on collective feedback from election officials statewide and in response to written requests from election officials in Charlotte, Lee and Sarasota counties.” ”

Lee County, where Hurricane Ian made landfall, has “few operational post-storm polling stations” and “several established polling stations are defunct,” according to the order. The Lee County Electoral Bureau also reported that the hurricane “displaced countless Lee County voters and poll workers from their homes.”

Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd said in a statement that his office has been working with election regulators “to ensure that the 2022 general election is conducted as efficiently and safely as possible across the state and in the counties that have suffered the most severe damage possible to be carried out”.

Election day is November 8th. Postal voting records are already accepted in the state. Deadlines for early voting vary by county, but the order says early voting can begin Oct. 24 across the three counties.

Voting rights advocates have asked DeSantis to accommodate voters affected by Hurricane Ian across the state. Representatives from a number of organizations, including Equal Ground, the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP and the Voting Rights Project, wrote a letter to Byrd and DeSantis Tuesday asking for an emergency order to vote in all 24 as possible districts deemed to facilitate disaster areas.

Some of what the groups were asking for — including expanding days and locations for early voting — was included in the order DeSantis signed Wednesday, but only for three counties.

More than 450,000 voters in Lee, Charlotte and Sarasota are registered as Republicans, compared to 265,000 Democrats and nearly 290,000 who are unaffiliated.

Overall, many, but not all, of the hurricane-damaged counties have more registered Republicans than Democrats. Orange County, where Hurricane Ian passed as a Category 1 storm and left historic flooding in the Orlando area, has 360,389 registered Democrats and 217,061 registered Republicans. No exceptions were granted.

Equal Ground’s Burney-Clark, excluding the other counties hit by the storm, said the order “will remain another example of Gov. DeSantis disenfranchising voters.”

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