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Hurricane Michael encourages many to vote


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As the morning fog burned away Monday toward noon, they were among the almost 45,000 Bay Countians to vote so far in the mid-term elections.

PANAMA CITY – As the brunt of Hurricane Michael’s force bore down on Panama City, wind ripped through the roof of Jerry Bunyon Jr.’s apartment ceiling with water and shingles following behind.

At that moment, he knew he should’ve listened to his wife.

“It was terrible,” Bunyon said Monday. “My wife told me I shouldn’t stay. And when it started to get bad, I wished I hadn’t. But by then it was too late.”

Bunyon lost furniture, clothes and his home in the storm. Their Panama City apartment was deemed uninhabitable, and they received their notice to vacate without a chance to find temporary housing. Despite relocating, though, Bunyon made his way Monday to the Supervisor of Elections’ office, 830 W. 11th Street, to cast a ballot in the midterm elections.

“I figure it’s your right, so you shouldn’t waste it,” he said.

Kelsey Jenkins, of Youngstown, had evacuated her mobile home to a nearby brick house she thought would stand a better chance against Hurricane Michael’s unprecedented winds. She fared better in the sense that she survived the storm. Jenkins’ home was not so lucky.

Similarly being rendered homeless by Hurricane Michael, Jenkins said that voting held priority in the wake of the most disastrous storm to strike the Panhandle.

“That’s the only way to make a difference,” she said. “That’s at the top of my list right now and everything else can wait. Who’s in office is going to affect how all this is handled.”

As the morning fog burned away Monday toward noon, they were among the almost 45,000 Bay Countians to vote so far in the mid-term elections. Their ballots will decide several amendments to the Florida Constitution and who holds seats in decisive federal, state and local offices. As the polls crept toward closure, Supervisor of Elections Mark Andersen said everything was on track to go smoothly.

Andersen had sought between 3,000 and 4,000 voters to turn out to the six “mega voting sites” established throughout the county each day to avoid any Election Day issues. In the past 11 consecutive days of the polls being open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., turnout averaged to about that figure with a peak day where 5,200 voters took to the ballot, he said.

Andersen said, much like the community coming in to vote, the poll workers lost their homes and still sought to fulfill their civic duty.


“Those are the real heroes,” he said. “These are people who lost their homes, but they’re here. They’re working and making things go smoothly. If there is one reason to come out and vote, it’s to show them they are appreciated.”

Several candidates visited Bay County in the past few days to make their last pitches to the storm-ravaged residents. Democrat candidate for governor, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, appeared Monday morning before the backdrop of Greater Bethel AME Church. It was still without power and draped in blue tarps. As Gillum stood on the church’s steps, dozens of supporters chanted “bring it home,” and he reassured them he would.

“We know the physical landscape is destroyed, but the spiritual landscape is strong,” Gillum told the crowd. ”... We know this area is often called the forgotten coast, but you will not be forgotten.”

A night earlier, several GOP candidates made their final pitches in a visit Lynn Haven, including contender for the governorship, Ron Desantis.

“I’m looking forward to being your next governor ... we need conservative leadership,” he told an audience of more than a hundred. “We will not raise taxes and will never have a state income tax.”

Voters will also be deciding races for a U.S. Senate seat between Gov. Rick Scott (R) and incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D), U.S. House seat between Rep. Neal Dunn (R) and Bob Rackleff (D), Florida Attorney General between Ashley Moody (R) and Sean Shaw (D), Chief Financial Office between Jimmy Patronis and Jeremy Ring (D), Agriculture Commissioner between Matt Caldwell and Nikki Fried and Florida State Representative seat between Sen. George Gainer (R) and Mary Jeanne Gibson (D).

The turnout Monday was on pace with the previous nine consecutive days of voting with almost 1,500 votes cast by midday. Of the 121,332 registered voters in the county, about 35 percent – or just shy of 45,000 voters – participated in the midterm election on the cusp of Election Day. Overall, it appears to be on pace with the turnout for the midterm election of 2014, which brought more than 51 percent – or 57,602 – voters to the polls, according to official records.

Andersen said that voting has been increasing in the latter leg of the contest. He said that the mega voting sites have been resolving other issues, like voters being turned away because they are at the wrong location. They also will save about $35,000 in poll worker compensation and the work of reviewing provisional ballots for people who do show up the wrong voting site. If it goes well by tomorrow’s end, Andersen said he’d make the case that mega voting sites should be common practice in the state.

For now, though, he encouraged voters to get out and be heard.

“Bay County is patriotic and resilient,” Andersen added. “Go vote. Now is the time.”

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