In a storm-struck region of Florida that overwhelmingly favors conservatives, would-be voters tell relief workers they’re “just struggling to survive.”
Most polling places and indeed most structures are damaged or destroyed in the wake of Hurricane Michael. Shelters are packed, people don’t have roofs on their homes, and thousands have been displaced.
Florida Family Action, a social-conservative organization led by John Stemberger, has launched Operation Panhandle to provide voter assistance.
Stemberger’s team of 60 volunteers are navigating storm-tossed neighborhoods and shelters to help Hurricane Michael refugees get to the new, centralized polling locations there that have replaced the normal election infrastructure blown away by the storm, one of the strongest to ever hit the United States.
Over the weekend Stemberger filed this report from the front lines of the relief effort:
“I am writing this email in real time on the ground from the hurricane ravaged regions of North Florida where we are fully engaged in an emergency get out the vote (GOTV) campaign called “Operation Panhandle Vote.’
“We have set up our headquarters in Panama City, Bay County where the devastation was the worst and it is more serious than I could have ever imagined.
“As you read this, I am leading a group of about 65 of our volunteers and other modestly paid workers who have come from all across Florida to be part of this effort. We are walking through damaged neighborhoods, offering people voting information, poll location flyers, voter guides, snacks, water, a prayer and a ride to the polls.
“In some areas over 50 percent of the residential, commercial and government buildings have been completely destroyed. The power is just now being turned on for some households after weeks without it in the rural areas.
“The devastation is so bad, that two of our older volunteers told me yesterday that it was simply more than they expected or could handle and had to head back home. They were just exhausted and overwhelmed by it. It truly is a major disaster area.
“One pastor who is a very good friend of ours from one of the largest churches in the area said, ‘John, we can’t even take any more voter guides for other churches from you right now. We are feeding 8,000 people a day, most of our buildings have been damaged and we can barely keep up with just surviving…’
“Another pastor described people in his church spending most of their days just digging personal belongings from their wrecked homes and guarding their property from looters.
“After learning they did not have insurance for wind damage, many families have no way to think about rebuilding from the rubble of their properties.
“I have been in active communication with the Supervisors of Elections [SEO] in Bay and surrounding counties.
“Pursuant to the Governor’s Emergency Executive Order on Hurricane Michael, the SEO has designated voting/polling places available and open, six major Mega Polling sites. This morning we are also moving into and canvassing Calhoun, Gadsden, and Franklin counties.
“It is somewhat challenging approaching people in the midst of this kind of suffering and reminding them to vote but this area is critical to every statewide election in Florida and it has been hit hard.
“The people here were so glad to be reminded of the election as it has just been completely off the radar for thousands of voters here. These votes could make the difference in this very close election.”
“This project was certainly not in our annual operating budget, but the votes of these good people are just as important as yours or mine, so we are doing everything in our power to help them make their vote count!”
Stemberger asks anyone able to support the Operation Panhandle relief effort to consider making a donation.
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