Hurricane Ian has not been able to stop our democratic processes, but it has blown them around somewhat. Since a number of polling places have been damaged or destroyed, registered voters in Lee and Charlotte counties, as well as a few other places affected by the storm, have some new and temporary guidelines and voting locations.
As we have reported before, our polling place this year will be the Crowninshield Community House. It is the building face the parking lot at the end of Banyan Street (east side). Providing they are registered Lee County electors, all Boca Grande residents and those working on the Island, will be able to vote at that location that day.
Early voting is underway and vote-by-mail ballots have appeared in many people’s mailboxes. Unfortunately, many people in Lee and Charlotte counties are not where their mail boxes once were. They have been forced to relocate because of the hurricane. To allow people to vote under these unusual circumstances, the Governor has issued an Emergency Executive Order allowing supervisors of election in affected counties to take special steps to facilitate voting.
In Lee County this means there are 12 early voting sites that will replace traditional polling places. For early voting, between now and the day before election day, voters may use any of the 12 locations they wish. The closest ones to the island are:
• Lee County Library, 21 SW 39th Terrace., Cape Coral
• East County Regional Library, 881 • Lee County Elections Office, Cape Coral Branch, 1039 SE 9 th Ave. Cape Coral
• North Fort Myers, Recreation Center, 2000 N. Recreation Park Way, North Fort Myers
• Northwest Regional Library, 519 Chiquita Blvd. N., Cape Coral
In Charlotte County, all polling places are available to all county voters during early voting. Those locations are:
• Charlotte County Administration Building, Murdock Circle, Port Charlotte
• Jarrett Ford of Charlotte County: Tamiami Trail (corner of US 41 and Olean Blvd)
• Mac V. Horton West County Annex: San Casa Drive, Englewood
• Old Historic Courthouse, Taylor Street, Punta Gorda
For Election Day, on November 8, however, voters in Charlotte County must vote in their assigned precinct polling place. A handful of the county’s polling locations have been changed because of the hurricane, but none of them affects Gasparilla Island voters.
Where one votes is important, but the real significance of the day is selecting people to represent us, and participating in the running of the country, state, and local governments. This election voters are asked to select the Governor/Lieutenant Governor team, a Senator, and a Representative. That is not where the voting should end, however.
Several other high-level offices are up for election, and a number of judges and justices are on the ballot, seeking to be retained in office. Additionally, there are three state constitutional amendments on everyone’s ballot, along with a number of proposals that will affect county-level governance.
Sample ballots are available from the county Supervisor of Election offices, allowing voters to prepare to vote on all offices and issues. These are usually available online, as well, or from election offices.
Here is a brief explanation of what we are deciding on:
Attorney General — the top legal officer of the state. This person advises other elected and appointed officials and represents the legislature and state agencies, acting as the “People’s Lawyer” for the citizens.
Chief Financial Officer — serves and safeguards citizens and businesses in Florida against acts of insurance fraud, acts of arson, workers’ compensation fraud, financial crime and provides forensic services for law enforcement.
Commissioner of Agriculture – heads the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and is charged with supporting and regulating Florida’s agriculture industry, conserving soil and water resources, managing state forests, protecting consumers from unfair trade practices, and ensuring the safety and wholesomeness of food in the marketplace.
This year, both Lee and Charlotte counties will be selecting a State Senator, and Lee County will vote for a State Representative (Charlotte County selected its State Rep in the primary election). Lee will also select a County Commissioner from the 5th District.
Both county’s ballots include the question of retention of five Justices of the State Supreme Court and eight Judges of the Second District Court of Appeals. Justices and judges are nonpartisan, and are appointed by the Governor, but must stand for retention or elimination from office every six years. There are seven Supreme Court Justices, but only five are up for retention this year. The Second District Court of Appeals has 16 judges and covers all of Central and Southwest Florida. Eight are up for retention this year.
In Lee County, School Board members are up for election. These include a member in District 1, District 3 and District 6. Lee County also is filling two positions on the Lee Memorial Health System Board of Directors through this election.
There is also a referendum on whether the Lee County Superintendent of Schools should be appointed or elected. Currently this position is appointed by the Board, but the question on the ballot is whether this position should be elected in a partisan election, and serve for a term of four years. If this passes, it will become effective in 2024.
In addition to voting for individuals, this year’s ballot includes three state Constitutional Amendments. Voters throughout the state will be voting on these three amendments. If an amendment passes, the Legislature still has to pass specific legislation to implement the change.
The first amendment calls for a change in the state’s tax law so that improvements to homes or residential real property for the purpose of flood resistance and protection would be exempted from being used to raise the property’s assessed value for tax purposes.
The second amendment calls for the abolition of the state’s Constitution Revision Commission. This commission meets once every 20 years to allow for citizens, on a regular basis, to review the state’s Constitution and propose changes. Some believe there is no need for such a commission, and that it has been criticized as often being partisan. Others believe it is an important vehicle for citizen input, and its operation could be reformed to be more bi-partisan. There are other ways the Constitution can be changed, but this is a means of direct citizen input, some argue.
The last Constitutional amendment proposes to add a homestead tax exemption for “critical” public service workers. This would give an addition $50,000 homestead exemption (along with the standard $50,000 Homestead Exemption) to classroom teachers, law enforcement officers, correctional officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, child welfare services personnel, active duty US Armed Forces members, and Florida National Guard members. This would give a boost to these groups, who are often taken for granted and compensated inadequately, but it may miss other groups that are in the same situation, and will cost local governments considerably in local tax revenue. The Legislature has already passed a bill that would put this amendment into law on January 1, 2023, if at least 60 percent of voters approve it.
Charlotte County has three County Charter changes on the ballot. The first one is whether or not the County Commission should conduct a review of all operations of the county in conjunction with the budget process. This is a clarification of the process, rather than a substantive change. The second Amendment would require the Commission to follow the same personnel policies for the position of County Attorney and County Director of Economic Development as are already followed for the County Administrator.
The third Charter amendment has to do with casino gambling in the county. The question is whether or not there needs to be a vote of the people before allowing such gambling in the county, if or when the state legalizes casino gambling.
Charlotte County also is asking for approval to continue the current $1 million ad valorem millage for public schools to enhance school security, recruit and retain teaches and employees, enhance student achievement, provide workforce development and maintain the current increase in instructional time with oversight by an independent citizens’ committee.