Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has put in charge of the state’s election systems a deeply conservative state lawmaker who has championed legislation to ban so-called sanctuary cities and calls himself the “Florida gun lawyer.”
DeSantis announced on Friday the appointment of state Rep. Cord Byrd as the next secretary of state, a day after the current officeholder, Laurel Lee, announced she was resigning. Byrd takes over the Florida Department of State at a critical juncture in the agency’s history: For the first time, the office will oversee a new election security force with unprecedented authority to hunt for election and voting violations in the state. The new election force was a top priority for DeSantis, who signed a law to create the Office of Election Crimes and Security earlier this year.”
Under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, Florida has led the way on election security and preserving freedom for its residents,” Byrd said in a statement. “As Secretary of State, I will make sure Florida continues to have secure elections and that we protect the freedom of our citizens in the face of big-tech censorship and ever-growing cybersecurity threats.”
The change in leadership comes amid a busy midterm election cycle where DeSantis will be on the ballot, and with the Department of State embroiled in multiple lawsuits over Florida’s new congressional map and a 2021 law that put new restrictions on mail-in voting and other election measures. On Thursday, a state judge called the new DeSantis-backed congressional boundaries unconstitutional because they diminish the power of Black voters in northern Florida, but an appellate court on Friday stayed the lower court’s ruling.
Lee, the outgoing secretary of state, has earned praise for being a steady hand from the county election officials who oversee voting across the state. Supporters of former President Donald Trump have at times put immense pressure on Lee and county election officials to conduct an Arizona-style review of the 2020 election, even though Trump won Florida by a healthy margin. Lee rejected those efforts, saying last year that the results in 2020 were “accurate, reliable.”