The impacts of Hurricane Ian are not deterring voters in several Florida counties
Despite certain regions of Florida suffering heavy damage from Hurricane Ian, voting officials say early turnout numbers are showing that the storm had little impact on Floridians’ desire to go to the polls.
As of Monday afternoon, Sarasota County has already seen a turnout above 27%, with a week of early voting remaining. Over 71,000 residents have voted by mail, while another nearly 27,000 in the county have gone to an early voting site.
The storm caused significant damage in the southern part of Sarasota County, but Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner says the turnout so far has been on par with what his office saw in 2018.
"It ended up being that while we may have had some voters in southern part of the county that may have lost their homes, maybe the Election Day voting place where they vote was still intact," Turner said.
Turner says he's been impressed with local political engagement in his county and even his own staff's desire to working despite the recent storm.
"We do have a seasonal staff member that works with us that lost their home and everything, and certainly our heart goes out to them, but they want it to continue to work," Turner said.
In DeSoto County, Supervisor of Elections Mark Negley says early voting has also been on par with what his office saw in previous midterms.
Apart from one precinct change that was finalized Monday, Negley said it has been a much smoother recovery process than when the county experienced Hurricane Charley in 2004.
“I just remember the call from the secretary of state in 2004, concerning the start of early voting, and I said, ‘You don't understand,’ ” Negley said. “People were so impacted that they were concerned about water and ice and lack of electricity. Restoration and electrical restoration seems to be quicker this time, although the damage was more intense.”
The desire to be politically involved after a local disaster may not be abnormal in Florida. Dr. Darryl Paulson is a professor emeritus of government at the University of South Florida. He says previous storms hitting the state haven't deterred people from the polls.
"We had the hurricane in Fort Myers in 2004, [it was] a very devastating hurricane, and yet, when you look at voter registration numbers down there, they were off slightly from normal expectations. But they weren't off substantially," Paulson said.
“They want to send a message, I think to public officials, that even though we've been devastated by a storm, we're still keeping our eye on you, and we expect you to serve us,” he said.
Paulson says political engagement can also depend on where the hurricane hits. The Fort Myers area and the Florida Panhandle, where Hurricane Michael hit in 2018, are Republican strongholds, which is the party that historically turns out at a higher rate than Democrats.
The polarization of political parties in the country and pertinent issues such as a potential recession, inflation, and abortion are also contributing factors that could drive a higher turnout, according to Paulson.
Manatee County, another hard-hit county in the Tampa Bay region, is reporting a 25% voter turnout as of Monday, with just over 17,000 taking advantage of early voting locations.
And Lee County, which saw its largest community in Fort Myers devastated by Ian, has already had a 26.5% voter turnout, with roughly 137,000 ballots already cast and nearly 37,000 taking part in early voting.
An updated list of county-by-county voter turnout in Florida can be found at the Florida Division of Elections website.
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