Hurricane Michael Could Change the Outcome of Florida’s Statewide Elections

According to the official results at the New York Times, Donald Trump carried Florida in the 2016 presidential election by 112,911 votes. Considering that nearly ten million votes were cast, that’s not a very large number. It came out to a 1.2 percent advantage. The 2012 election was even closer, with President Obama eking out a 0.8 percent victory over Mitt Romney by 74,309 votes. And, of course, we all remember 2000 when Al Gore lost the “official” count by a mere 537 votes.

Republicans always rack up a lot of their votes in the Florida panhandle and that’s precisely where Hurricane Michael made landfall. Much of the area is devastated and still without power or cell phone service. And that’s going to have some impact on turnout in the area which could prove decisive in both the statewide U.S. Senate and gubernatorial contests. Understandably, the state’s government is concerned.

Florida’s secretary of state, Ken Detzner, said in a statement it was his “number one priority” that “all registered voters, first responders and volunteers in affected areas are able to cast their vote safely and securely without any barriers.”

The New York Times reports that the following counties are the ones suffering the worst fallout from the storm, and we can see that they collectively favored Trump by a wide margin.

Bay Co.- Trump 62,194, Clinton 21,797, Net: Trump +40,397
Gulf Co.- Trump 5,329, Clinton 1,720, Net: Trump +3,609
Franklin Co.- Trump 4,125, Clinton 1,744, Net: Trump +2,381
Calhoun Co.- Trump 4,655, Clinton 1,241, Net: Trump +3,414
Liberty Co.- Trump 2,543, Clinton 651, Net: Trump +1,892
Gadsden Co.- Trump 6,728, Clinton 15,020, Net: Clinton +8,292

Total Net Votes: Trump +43,401

These counties supplied Trump with 38 percent of his statewide margin of victory and you can bet that Governor Rick Scott, who is running for Senate, and Rep. Ron DeSantis, who is running for governor, are both frantic to get those votes. As for the Democratic candidates, they surely want to see good turnout in Gadsden County.

In a state known for its tight election results, depressed turnout in the Panhandle could easily make the difference between victory and defeat. The Real Clear Politics average of polls currently shows the Senate race tied and Democrat Andrew Gillum leading DeSantis by a single point in the governor’s contest.

Many designated polling places in the region have either been destroyed or diverted into shelters. The roof at the Bay County election office is missing. Electronic voting machines don’t work when there is no electricity.  And voters can’t get any information when their phones and computers aren’t working.

The Gulf Country election supervisor says that people can vote by mail or get absentee ballots at his office but they won’t have the option of going to their normal polling places.  There will be two “voting super centers” open between Oct. 26 and Election Day that will operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Since this is all much more likely to hurt Republican candidates than Democratic ones, you might expect it to be a major priority for the Trump administration. But, according to Paul Lux, the president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, there’s little evidence that this is the case:

Mr. Lux said local election officials felt they had received little help from the federal government. “If you’re wondering what the government response has been, we’re sort of wondering, too,” he said.

A lot of residents are feeling abandoned, too, as assistance has been slow to arrive in many areas.

The upcoming elections are too close to call based on the polling. If the fallout from the storm proves decisive, it should be detectable in the turnout numbers we see and how they compare to other areas of the state.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.