Reviews | Democratic alarm bells ringing on DeSantis’ new election watchman

The once sleepy job of secretary of state — and chief election watchdog — proved hugely important to our democracy when Donald Trump’s assault on the 2020 election results began. Now, several Trump-aligned candidates are vying for secretary of state positions across the country, raising concerns that the election results may in fact be manipulated.

But here in Florida, a Trumpian bureaucrat is already in place, thanks to his recent installation by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. This is worrying in a state where political races are often too close to call and recount of votes are routine.

To encounter Byrd cord, who was a far-right Republican member of the State House before his May nomination and state Senate confirmation. DeSantis famous as “an ally of freedom and democracy”.

But Byrd seems a little uncertain about the 2020 election results. When asked if Joe Biden won the election, Byrd said“He’s been certified president and he’s president of the United States,” adding, “There have been irregularities in some states.”

What Byrd doesn’t say is that Biden won the election.

Byrd’s nomination immediately set off alarm bells among Democrats.

Florida State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat, tweeted that the state needs a secretary of state whose “top priority is free and fair elections, not a hyperpartisan GOP loyalist taking over from Ron DeSantis. Our right to vote is sacred and I worry about what this could mean for our democracy.

Because Florida’s secretary of state serves at the whim of the governor, a political kinship between the two is obvious. This can arouse suspicion. “The Florida secretary of state has a constituency of one — and that’s the governor,” Daniel A. Smith, a professor and chair of the University of Florida’s political science department, told me. “And we have a governor who is a micromanager.”

Particularly disturbing: DeSantis imagined a electoral police this year dedicated to researching voter fraud and other election crimes, and Byrd is in charge of 15 civilian investigators and up to 10 Florida Department of Law Enforcement officers.

That doesn’t sit well with Ion Sancho, a retired longtime election supervisor for Leon County. “They have independent authority over the police under the direction of the governor,” Sancho told me.

Byrd’s wife, Esther, is also a political radical, an alleged Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who actively pressed Trump officials and friends to derail Biden’s victory.

In online posts (since deleted) shortly after the January 6, 2021 attack on the United States Capitol, Esther Byrd wrote“In the coming civil wars… there are only 2 teams… With us [or] Against us” and “ANTIFA and BLM can burn down and loot buildings and violently attack police and citizens. But when Trump supporters protest peacefully, they can only talk about ‘law and order’!”

This spring, DeSantis appointed her to the state board of education.

You might not be shocked to learn that she and her husband were photographed in 2020 on a boat piloting a QAnon flag. Byrd said he had never been a QAnon follower: “Equivocally not.” He also pointed out that he was on 20 different boats that day.

As for fears that partisanship clouded his decisions at work, Byrd replied“I take my oath very seriously.”

But he is as far right as his governor. Byrd’s website is called Florida Firearms Lawyer. And as a member of the State House, he assistance turned many of DeSantis’ more radical ideas into high-profile culture war bills involving race, education, and gay rights.

As a lawmaker, Byrd also supported changes to election laws, making it harder to use ballot boxes and register through third parties. A federal The judge blocked the law in March, saying it “trampled on the right to vote”. A higher federal court has since reinstated the law.

County election supervisors who respond to Byrd with vehemence opposite the vague and confusing law, which they considered unnecessary.

“We’ve gone from having the most successful election” – in 2020 – “to ‘Oh, we gotta fix it,'” Lori Edwards, Democrat and Polk County Elections Supervisor, told me.

With the primary coming in August, Edwards and other supervisors are doing their best to remain optimistic. But it’s hard not to worry. MAGA fanatics have trampled on democratic integrity again and again. Why would they stop now?

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