More Trouble: Florida County Broke State Rules When They Allowed People to Vote by Email, Fax

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Posted: Nov 13, 2018 8:20 AM
More Trouble: Florida County Broke State Rules When They Allowed People to Vote by Email, Fax

Voting in Florida has been a mess for the last week. And now there's even more to add to their plate. It's being reported that voters in Bay County who were hard hit by Hurricane Michael voted by fax and email despite the state saying that goes against voting practices and guidelines. 

According to Bay County Supervisor of Elections Mark Andersen, his staff worked with 158 displaced voters to make sure that they were able to vote in the midterm elections. They did this by emailing ballots to voters despite the Florida Department of State saying it "wasn't an option."

"That was the only method available to voters that were displaced from the hurricane," Anderson told CNN. "We would send them a ballot via email just like we would to the extent with our overseas voters. They would get it, they would vote it; 147 of them actually faxed it back to us after they voted it."

11 of the ballots were returned via fax.

"No one cast a ballot that shouldn't have cast a ballot," he said.

Anderson also said that some of his staff who worked this election cycle were also displaced by the hurricane.

"Some (voters) don't have homes -- some of my staff don't have homes that worked this election -- so I think the important part (is) to realize that we actually were able to pull off a successful election with checks and balances," he said.

When Hurricane Michael's destruction became apparent last month, Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed an executive order allowing county election officials to extend early voting and vote-by-mail for those who were severely impacted. 

The Florida Department of State laid out a plan for those voters (emphasis mine):

Today, the Governor issued Executive Order 18-283 which gives Supervisors of Elections in Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Jackson, Liberty, and Washington counties the authority to extend and enhance voting options based on needs and challenges they have identified, including:

  • Locally-elected supervisors of elections in the impacted counties are now able to extend the amount of days of early voting, designate additional early voting locations and expedite the delivery and acceptance of vote-by-mail ballots. Each of these locally-elected supervisors of elections have reported significant obstacles created by Hurricane Michael preventing them from administering an election without these accommodations. These obstacles include, but are not limited to, damage to polling locations, extended telecommunications service disruptions, and large percentages of the counties’ population without power. Supervisors of Elections have not reported any damage to voting machines and all election-related equipment, including ballots, are secure.
  • The locally-elected Supervisors of Elections in the eight affected counties will be able to determine if additional early voting sites and days are necessary. The early voting period in the affected counties can begin as early as Monday, October 22, 2018, and can extend through election day November 6, 2018.
  • The Executive Order extends the registration date for poll watchers to noon on October 26, 2018.
  • Executive Order 18-283 directs Secretary Detzner to coordinate with each supervisor of elections in Florida to ensure that Florida National Guard troops, first responders, law enforcement, volunteers, and utility power restoration workers engaged in the recovery efforts in the Panhandle and anyone who evacuated from the storm can cast a ballot. 
  • The restriction on vote-by-mail ballots being forwarded to a different address has been waived. This will help displaced voters to cast a ballot. The Executive Order also waives provisions so voters in the affected counties can more easily obtain vote-by-mail ballots.

Voting by fax or email is not an option under the Executive Order. In the hardest hit areas, communication via phone, fax and email remains challenging and would be an unreliable method for returning ballots. Additionally, past attempts by other states to allow voters impacted by natural disasters to fax or email ballots have been rife with issues. The Department is actively reviewing ways to provide more absentee ballots to those voters in the counties severely impacted by Hurricane Michael. 

According to Sarah Revell, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of State, "The Florida Department of State has received reports that the Bay County supervisor of elections allowed some voters to return their ballots via email and fax. Supervisors of elections are independently elected constitutional officers and it is each supervisor's responsibility to adhere to the law at all times."

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Despite the clearly laid out rules, Andersen doesn't believe he did anything wrong.

"I don't believe that I broke anything as far as the requirement and charge of my office to ensure the voter the opportunity to cast a ballot," he said.