TALLAHASSEE - Voters will cast ballots in "super precincts" in Charlotte County and some will vote in tents in neighboring De Soto County as the counties most damaged by Hurricane Charley struggle to ensure on-time elections Tuesday.
To get the word out to voters, Secretary of State Glenda Hood and elections officials in the heavily damaged areas have launched information campaigns, established a hotline to help voters find their precincts and even will have an airplane trail a banner.
"These counties have really stepped up to the plate and done incredible things in a short time," Hood said.
No one is certain power will be restored to the entire area by election day, but state officials have acquired generators just in case.
In Charlotte County, 65 precincts will be grouped into nine super precincts while the remaining 15 precincts will vote as usual, Hood said Tuesday.
Charlotte voters will use 350 touch screen machines which have been tested and will be retested on Thursday. Some may have to be powered by generators.
An undetermined number of touch screen machines in Charlotte have water damage and will have to be replaced before the November election.
Hardee County will double up its 12 precincts into six larger precincts. Hardee and De Soto counties use optical scan voting equipment that allows voters to fill in a bubble on a paper ballot before a machine counts it. Some De Soto voters will cast ballots in tents supplied by federal officials.
Hood said she is not sure how many voters will turn out for the primaries, but noted only 20 percent of Florida's voters generally go to the polls in primaries.
Poll workers in all three counties are being trained, and helping are elections officials on loan from the state and other nondamaged Florida counties. Two former elections supervisors, Linda Young of Lee County and David Leahy of Miami-Dade County, are working with officials in the damaged areas. Leahy was at the helm in Miami when Hurricane Andrew forced postponement of an election.
All three counties have joined Florida's other 64 counties in offering early voting. In Charlotte early voting hours have been expanded from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Officials urge any voter who needs help to call toll-free 1-866-308-6739, the state's hotline for information on where and when to vote.
Hood also developed a public service announcement airing on radio and TV in the damaged area reminding people to vote and encouraging citizens to volunteer for poll worker assignments.