Hurricane Michael hit the Florida Panhandle in mid-October and had a lasting effect on the infrastructure and residents of several coastal counties. As a result of the devastation, Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order extending the deadline for early voting and increasing the number of early voting locations in eight hurricane-hit counties. Gov. Scott issued this executive order pursuant to the governor’s power under the Florida Elections Emergency Act. However, Bay County Supervisor of Elections Mark Andersen went beyond the governor’s executive order and accepted roughly 150 ballots via fax or email. These electronically transmitted ballots were cast by voters who were displaced by Hurricane Michael.
Although Anderson’s actions may seem admirable, Florida law does not provide this option for voters displaced by a disaster. Under the Elections Emergency Act, the governor can implement several different remedies to facilitate safe and accessible voting: delaying the election (Fla. Stat. § 101.733 (2018)), moving polling places (Fla. Stat. § 101.74 (2018)), or increasing the number of polling places (Fla. Stat. § 101.74 (2018)). However, authorizing voters to cast votes by fax or email is not a remedy available to the governor. Not all Florida voters are barred from voting electronically. In fact, military and overseas voters can choose how they would like their ballots transmitted (Fla. Stat. § 101.62(4)(c) (2018)). In an emergency, the Election Canvassing Commission can adopt special procedures to facilitate absentee voting by military and overseas voters (Fla. Stat. § 101.698 (2018)). This means that an emergency may prompt the Election Canvassing Commission to facilitate voting by fax or email for military and overseas voters. Thus, it would appear that Florida law treats different classes of voters differently in emergency situations.