Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., was accused by several media outlets of politicizing voter access after he eased restrictions in the counties most heavily affected by Hurricane Ian on Thursday.
DeSantis signed an emergency executive order that expanded mail-in ballot access and early voting availability to counties that were heavily damaged by the Category 4 hurricane. According to the order, the decision primarily focused on Charlotte, Lee and Sarasota Counties after "collective feedback of the Supervisors of Elections across the state" and "at the written requests" of these counties’ election supervisors.
Although the order is set to assist tens of thousands of displaced citizens in these counties, some attacked the voter assistance by suggesting that it is politically motivated for the midterm elections.
Shortly after the announcement, Washington Post reporter Lori Rozsa wrote that the three counties in question are overwhelmingly Republican as opposed to other damaged countries outside the order.
"More than 450,000 voters in Lee, Charlotte and Sarasota are registered as Republicans, compared with 265,000 Democrats and nearly 290,000 affiliated with no party," Rozsa reported, "Overall, registered Republicans outnumber Democrats in many, but not all, of the counties damaged by the hurricane. Orange County, where Hurricane Ian passed as a Category 1 storm and left historic flooding in Orlando and surrounding areas, has 360,389 registered Democrats and 217,061 registered Republicans. It was not granted any exceptions."
The Guardian reporter Gloria Oladipo published a similar piece on Friday claiming that "anger" had erupted after DeSantis eased voting restrictions in "Republican areas."
"Governor Ron DeSantis has made voting easier in certain Florida counties battered by Hurricane Ian – but only Republican-leaning ones. DeSantis signed an executive order on Thursday that eases voting rules for about 1 million voters in Lee, Charlotte and Sarasota counties, all areas that Hurricane Ian hit hard and that all reliably vote Republican. Meanwhile, Orange County, a Democratic-leaning area which experienced historic flooding from the storm, received no voting exceptions," Oladipo wrote.
While other outlets did not highlight "criticism" against DeSantis’ order, many noted that the three counties heavily lean towards Republicans or went to Trump in 2020.
NPR reported, "Donald Trump won 62%, 59% and 54% of the vote in Charlotte, Lee and Sarasota counties, respectively." ABC News reported, "Southwest Florida leans Republican, with the counties of Lee, Charlotte and Sarasota delivering wins for DeSantis and Trump in their last general elections" while "Lee County voted for Trump in 2020 by nearly 20 percentage points over President Joe Biden." Politico also referred to the counties as "Republican strongholds."
"The three counties covered by DeSantis’s executive order are home to more than 1 million active registered voters, with more than 450,000 of them registered as Republicans. Lee County provided a 62,000-vote margin to DeSantis in the 2018 election when he barely edged Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum," Politico staff writer Gary Fineout wrote.
Other media pundits shared the reports, accusing DeSantis of "hypocrisy" for promoting stricter voting guidelines last year while now easing rules following a category 4 hurricane.
"The hypocrisy is as astonishingly brazen as it is astonishingly galling," MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan tweeted.
PBS correspondent Hari Sreenivasan tweeted, "Nothing to see here… move along."
Washington Post reporter Azi Paybarah remarked, "Some of the accommodations being offered run counter to recently enacted voting laws pushed by DeSantis and passed by the GOP-led state legislature."
"The ReidOut" host and frequent DeSantis critic Joy Reid tweeted, "It should surprise no one that @RonDeSantisFL, after failing the people of Lee and neighboring counties by not pushing for an evacuation in time to save their lives & homes from hurricane Ian is now piecing through the map, making post-disaster voting easier ONLY for Republicans."
DeSantis' office did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.
Additional features of the executive order included allowing people to request by phone to have their mail-in ballots sent to a new address rather than their residential address, expanding the pool of eligible poll workers and expanding early voting to begin October 24 through election day on November 8.