As counties recount ballots in three statewide races and lawyers battle over the complex vote tallying in court, the top elections official in Bay County said he allowed some displaced voters to cast ballots by email or fax after Hurricane Michael hit the Panhandle, even though there is no provision for it in state law. Bay County Supervisor of Elections Mark Andersen said Monday that 11 ballots were accepted by email and 147 ballots were domestically faxed in, though state statute does not allow emailed ballots and faxing in ballots is only permitted for military and voters overseas. But Andersen defended his decision to accept those ballots by email and fax vigorously, noting the mass devastation that rocked the coastal county one month ago. “You did not go through what we went through,” he said, describing areas that were shut off by law enforcement and people barred from returning to their homes. “If some are unhappy we did so well up here, I don’t know what to tell them. We sure had an opportunity to not do well, I can tell you that much.”
Andersen said that all of those ballots were verified by signature and that voters were required to sign an oath. “If I can validate it with a signature, the ballot is there, how is that different than a ballot that comes in through the post office?”
“When devastation happens, leaders rise to the top and make decisions,” he added. “I will not change my mind on this, not for these voters.”
Andersen had said earlier Monday that about 150 ballots had been accepted by email, and he also told local television news station WJHG/WECP, which first reported the ballots returned by email Friday, that 147 displaced voters had sent ballots to his office that way.
“Is fax an email or is that an electronic transmission device? Well, electronic transmission, that’s email,” he said. “I knew some of them had been returned via fax … but I’ve had arguments with some people that electronic communication is all email so I figured I’d throw them all together.”