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Florida governor eases voting rules in counties slammed by Hurricane Ian

Power crews work to restore electricity in the wake of Hurricane Ian on Oct. 6 on San Carlos Island, in Florida's Lee County.
Win McNamee
Getty Images
Power crews work to restore electricity in the wake of Hurricane Ian on Oct. 6 on San Carlos Island, in Florida's Lee County.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an order Thursday extending early voting and mail ballot access for certain voters who were affected by Hurricane Ian ahead of elections this fall.

According to the governor's office, the order was done at the request of election officials in Charlotte, Lee and Sarasota counties, and the changes apply to residents of those counties, which were among the hardest hit by the deadly storm late last month.

State officials say supervisors of elections in those three counties have been reporting severe damage to polling locations, utility and telecommunications service disruptions, poll worker shortages and many displaced voters just weeks before Election Day. So far, no local officials in Florida have reported any damage to voting equipment.

In a statement, Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd said his office has been in touch with local officials to "to ensure that the 2022 General Election is administered as efficiently and securely as possible" in counties that received the most damage from Hurricane Ian.

"Florida will continue to lead the way in elections administration in 2022," Byrd said. "And I am grateful for and confident that our local elections officials will have all of the resources and support they need to run another successful election."

The governor's order allows Charlotte, Lee and Sarasota counties to designate additional early voting sites, and then extend those sites through Election Day. These sites mean voters in affected areas will be able to cast ballots at any of these vote centers, as opposed to only being able to vote at their local precinct on Election Day. This allows local officials to have to find fewer locations to open on Election Day.

The Lee County elections supervisor told NPR last week that dozens of Election Day precinct sites were not up and running.

Per the order, officials are required to publicly inform voters of any changes they make.

The order also allows voters in those counties to request by phone that their mail ballot be mailed to an address that isn't currently included in their vote-by-mail request. The change is meant to make mail voting easier for people who were displaced from their homes.

Officials in Charlotte, Lee and Sarasota counties are now also able to waive current poll worker training requirements ahead of the election. In an effort to increase the pool of eligible workers, any poll worker who previously trained for the 2020 election cycle or later elections can serve as a poll worker without this year's training.

DeSantis' order follows a series of reforms in Florida that added new restrictions to casting ballots. The measures passed in the wake of the 2020 election place new limits on mail voting and drop boxes, among other things.

DeSantis himself is up for reelection this year. The three counties affected by the order are Republican-leaning. In 2020, Donald Trump won 62%, 59% and 54% of the vote in Charlotte, Lee and Sarasota counties, respectively.

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Ashley Lopez
Ashley Lopez is a political correspondent for NPR based in Austin, Texas. She joined NPR in May 2022. Prior to NPR, Lopez spent more than six years as a health care and politics reporter for KUT, Austin's public radio station. Before that, she was a political reporter for NPR Member stations in Florida and Kentucky. Lopez is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Miami, Florida.