Ron DeSantis’ ‘radical far-right’ secretary of state will oversee his run

Democrats and election experts have been sounding the alarm for months over the growing risk of electoral subversion as conspiracy theorists backed by former President Donald Trump run for secretary of state in key states swing. But with little fanfare or media attention, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis earlier this year chose a right-wing ally who refuses to acknowledge President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory to oversee his re-election race.

Across the country, Republicans pushing Trump’s “big lie” about the 2020 election are running to win jobs overseeing the upcoming election. Trump loyalist Jim Marchant, who has baselessly claimed elections are illegitimate for more than a decade, recently won the Republican nomination for secretary of state in Nevada. Michigan’s Republican Party is backing Kristina Karamo, who pushed ridiculous conspiracy theories about the 2020 race theft. Trump also endorsed Mark Finchem as Arizona’s next secretary of state after attending the Capitol rally. of January 6 and presented a bill to cancel the certification of the results of the 2020 elections.

But Florida, like Texas, allows the governor to appoint the state’s chief election officer. After Secretary of State Laurel Lee resigned to run for a U.S. House seat this spring, DeSantis simply gave the job to her right-wing ally.

In May, DeSantis appointed controversial state Rep. Cord Byrd to oversee elections in the state, portraying him as an “ally of freedom and democracy.” DeSantis won his first election by less than half a percentage point over Democrat Andrew Gillum, the former mayor of Tallahassee.

“I look forward to his successes in keeping the Florida election safe, secure and well administered,” DeSantis said in a statement. A press release from DeSantis’ office hailed Byrd as “a strong advocate for election security, public integrity, the fight against big tech censorship, and the de-platforming of political candidates.”

In his own statement, Byrd pledged to ensure that “Florida continues to have secure elections and that we protect the freedom of our citizens in the face of ever-increasing big tech censorship and cybersecurity threats.”

Byrd refused to acknowledge Biden’s victory over Trump, citing unspecified “irregularities” in the 2020 election.

“He’s been certified as president. He’s the president of the United States,” Byrd said after his nomination. “There were irregularities in some states. … I am not the secretary of state for Wisconsin, Pennsylvania or Arizona. It depends on their constituents. We in Florida had a successful election in 2020. And that’s what I want to continue to have in 2022.”

There is no evidence of issues in the states cited by Byrd that could have influenced the election inappropriately.

Byrd said Florida’s election was “successful and accurate,” but added that “we also know people want to interfere and cause chaos,” defending a series of new voting restrictions, some of which a judge later ruled unconstitutional because they disenfranchised black voters.

Byrd and his wife Esther, who was appointed by DeSantis to the State Board of Education, quit Twitter last year after tweeting about “civil wars ahead” during the Capitol Riot.

“In the upcoming Civil Wars (We the People vs. the Radical Left and We the People Cleansing Up the Republican Party), the team rosters are filling up. Every DC elected official will choose one. There are only 2 teams… With us [or] Against us,” Esther Byrd tweeted as the Capitol was besieged. “We the people will NOT forget!”

She also appeared to defend the rioters in another post she wrote on Facebook.

“ANTIFA and BLM can burn and loot buildings and violently attack police and citizens,” she wrote, according to Florida Politics. “But when Trump supporters protest peacefully, all they can talk about is ‘law and order’! I can’t even listen to these idiots complaining about resolving our differences without violence.”

She also made “QAnon-friendly comments after the couple were photographed on a QAnon-flagged boat,” the outlet reported.

Cord Byrd dismissed criticism of his wife’s comments last year, saying “people are talking about civil wars within the Republican Party”.

“There are factions. People believe different things. It was a figure of speech and that’s how it was intended,” he told WJXT-TV.

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Byrd, who will ultimately have to be confirmed by the Republican-led state Senate, will oversee the state’s upcoming election and the implementation of his new voting restrictions, including the creation of a new office in the Department. of State to investigate allegations of wrongdoing. Democrats pushed to hold confirmation hearings but were ignored by Republican leaders.

While serving in the State House, Byrd co-sponsored voting restriction legislation and several other controversial bills, including a 2021 measure that imposed stiff criminal penalties for protests that turned violent after protests by mass after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

“We can act before it’s too late. We don’t need Miami or Orlando or Jacksonville to become Kenosha or Seattle or Portland,” Byrd said at the time. “We have the ability under Bill 1 to act now to say you can protest peacefully but you can’t commit acts of violence, you can’t harm other people, you cannot destroy their property, you cannot destroy their life.”

Byrd also co-sponsored Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill, a 15-week abortion ban, a bill banning schools from discussing race, and anti-trans and anti-immigrant legislation. , according to the ACLU of Florida. Byrd also backed DeSantis’ congressional map, which was passed by the legislature and then challenged in court for reducing the number of black-majority districts in the state.

“Our main concern with this office is that there are no safeguards to ensure that under any administration it cannot become a political tool,” Abelilah Skhir of the ACLU of Florida told NPR.

During a debate on the state’s 15-week abortion ban, Byrd clashed with black lawmakers in the House, calling them “fuckin’ idiots,” according to the Orlando Sentinel.

State Representative Angie Nixon said at the time that she was “disgusted” by Byrd’s behavior.

“Byrd is unhinged” she tweeted, accusing him of “antagonizing and insulting members of the Black Caucus”. He “clearly has biases and lacks composure,” she wrote.

Byrd’s office later denied the report.

After Byrd’s nomination, Nixon criticized DeSantis’ choice, arguing that the top election official “should be a consensus builder whose sole purpose is to hold free and fair elections for every citizen of our state.”

“Cord Byrd is not that person,” she said in a statement. “He is unqualified in both his credentials and his temperament, has proven time and time again that he will put partisanship before good politics, and is unfit to lead a state’s election department. diverse population of more than 20 million.”

Byrd said in a statement to NPR that he has “always advocated for the rule of law, and now being Florida’s secretary of state, that’s not going to change.”

The secretary of state’s office said allegations that Byrd politicized the department “simply aren’t true and have been repeatedly addressed.”

“This is a false narrative that appears to be perpetuated by inaccurate or incomplete reporting and partisan political attacks,” the office said. “The Office of the Secretary of State is nonpartisan and will not respond to these allegations.”

DeSantis defended Byrd at a press conference in May, casting him as a champion of “election integrity.”

“We’re not going to have to worry in Florida about Zuckerbucks infiltrating our elections with Cord as secretary of state,” the governor said, echoing a litany of election conspiracy theories. “We’re not going to have to worry about harvesting ballots with Cord as Secretary of State. We’re going to make sure the elections are conducted efficiently and transparently. But we’re not going to allow those outside influences to come in and corrupt the operations, and we’re certainly not going to allow political operatives to take all those votes and throw them away somewhere.

So far, Democratic calls for a state Senate vote on Byrd’s confirmation have fallen on deaf ears. State Sen. Randolph Bracy, a Democrat, said in a statement that Byrd “must be thoroughly vetted and confirmed by the entire Senate before he can preside over the upcoming midterm elections.

“He takes over at a critical time and will be the first to oversee a new election security force that has unprecedented authority to hunt for election and voting violations,” Bracy said.

State Rep. Carlos Smith, a fellow Democrat, said Byrd could be DeSantis’ “scariest nomination yet.”

“Florida now has a QAnon conspiracy theorist and big lie promoter overseeing our state elections and DeSantis election police,” he said. “We need a Secretary of State whose top priority is free and fair elections, not some hyper-partisan GOP loyalist taking over from Ron DeSantis. Our right to vote is sacred and I worried about what this could mean for our democracy.”

Democrats running to challenge DeSantis have already asked the Justice Department to closely monitor the secretary of state’s new election police, citing Byrd’s involvement.

Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., a former Florida governor (and former Republican) who is running for office again, sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland asking the Justice Department “to consider using all authorities and resources available to protect the rights of Florida voters.”

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, another Democratic gubernatorial candidate, also cited Byrd when she asked the DOJ to keep tabs on the state.

“Because of these seriously concerning actions, it is imperative that the U.S. Department of Justice closely monitor the election-related actions of Florida officials and take appropriate federal action as necessary,” she wrote, adding that the “collective actions” of DeSantis and the Florida Legislature were “not isolated threats, but deliberate attempts to circumvent or override Democratic norms.” elections.”

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