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Florida's new Secretary of State won't say whether he believes presidential election was stolen

Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach, makes his closing remarks on his sponsored E-verify bill during session Tuesday March 10, 2020, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Steve Cannon
AP News
Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach, makes his closing remarks on his sponsored E-verify bill during session Tuesday March 10, 2020, in Tallahassee, Fla.

Florida's new chief elections officer met for the first time this week with his most important constituency: the state's 67 elections supervisors.

Newly-appointed Secretary of State Cord Byrd has been a poll watcher, a candidate and public official.

After six years in the Florida House, he was tapped by Governor Ron DeSantis to replace former Secretary of State Laurel Lee, who recently resigned to run for Congress. In the new post, Byrd will oversee the state's voting apparatus. He's taking over as the department creates a new election crimes and security unit, made up of 15 non-sworn investigators looking for election irregularities. Byrd told reporters he'll soon begin filling those positions in Tallahassee.

"Some of them will be either current or have former law enforcement backgrounds," Byrd said. "Others will have an investigative background for the data analyst type positions."

Byrd is a 51-year-old attorney from the Jacksonville suburb of Neptune Beach. As a House member, he was a staunch supporter of DeSantis’ agenda, including the governor's insistence on his own version of a redrawn map of congressional districts that critics say will significantly reduce Black voting power in the state.

In a speech to supervisors Tuesday, Byrd emphasized the need to combat untruths about the upcoming election. Donald Trump won Florida but lost the 2020 election and recent polling has found a majority of Republicans continue to believe the election was stolen. Byrd sidestepped a question about whether Joe Biden won the presidency fair and square.

"He was certified as the president and he is the president of the United States," Byrd said. "There were irregularities in certain states. What I'm concerned about is that I'm Secretary of State of Florida -- not Wisconsin or Pennsylvania or Arizona. That's up to their voters."

Byrd has already faced criticism from election supervisors in some Democratic counties for voting for election law changes that reduce the use of drop boxes and increase fines for violations by third-party groups that register new voters. Joe Scott is the supervisor of elections in Broward County, the state's most heavily-Democratic county. He says Byrd is contributing to disinformation by questioning the legitimacy of President Joe Biden's election.

Adding to Democrats' distrust of Byrd, his wife tweeted in support of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

"That's not helpful," Scott said. "I think there's a lot of disinformation out there, and for elections officials to not be clear and concise in their language to build confidence in our election system is just not helpful."

Byrd is the 37th secretary of state in Florida history. He replaces Laurel Lee, a former circuit judge from Tampa who resigned earlier this month to run for Congress.

Copyright 2022 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Steve Bousquet has covered state government and politics for three decades at the Sun Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. He was the Times' Tallahassee bureau chief from 2005 to 2018 and has also covered city and county politics in Broward County. He has a master's degree in U.S. history from Florida State.
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