Early voting steady in Florida Panhandle after Hurricane Michael

By Mike Vasilinda - Tallahassee Bureau Chief
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MARIANNA, FL - OCTOBER 13: Commercial buildings on the square in Marianna were heavily damaged by Hurricane Michael on October 13, 2018 in Marianna, Florida. According to reports, at least 18 people have died since Hurricane Michael made…

MARIANNA, Fla. - More than 2.5 million people have already voted in Florida.

Early voting began over the weekend in most of the Panhandle counties hit hardest by Hurricane Michael.

Turnout has been slow but, on Monday morning, there were signs that things may be picking up.

Downtown Marianna still looks as if a bomb went off there. Blocks away, News4Jax found a steady stream of early voters.

“I think we’re good. We’re tough people and we’ll fight through it," said Virgil Shannon, a local timber consultant.

Early voting started Saturday in the county. Ten percent cast a ballot.

Normally, there would be 14 precincts open in Jackson County on Election Day, but this year there’ll be only three.

"We will have a sign indicating your polling place is closed," said Jackson County Supervisor of Elections Sylvia Stephens. “Some still don’t have power. They’re being used for emergency staging sites, and also for distribution sites.”

Thirty miles south in Calhoun County, early voting has been open for a week.

While voting is expected to be fairly normal there, in Panama City, which has more than 40 precincts, only six super precincts are going to be open.

Back in Marianna, News4Jax found Jeff Cloud surveying his graphics business. 

"The windows blew out on that end and the hurricane came through the building and blew this out," Cloud said.

He’s not sure he’ll be able to reopen after rain damaged his equipment, but he is sure he will vote.

"We got a lot on our plate, but we’re still thinking about the future," Cloud said. "We had the best October we’ve had in forever and it’s because of Trump’s policies.”

The hurricane-affected counties produced 70 percent of Gov. Rick Scott's victory margin in 2014. Turnout there could be one of the largest factors in deciding who is Florida’s next governor.

In 2016, Donald Trump got 77,000 votes in the nine hardest-hit counties. His biggest margin came from Panama City in Bay County, which is registered Republican by a 2-to-1 margin.

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