DeSantis-Appointed Secretary of State Reportedly Worked Closely With Election Denial Activists

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA - AUGUST 18: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference held at the Broward County Courthouse on August 18, 2022 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The Governor announced during the... FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA - AUGUST 18: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference held at the Broward County Courthouse on August 18, 2022 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The Governor announced during the press conference that the state’s new Office of Election Crimes and Security has uncovered and are in the process of arresting 20 individuals across the state for voter fraud. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) MORE LESS

This past May, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis appointed state Representative Cord Byrd to serve as Florida’s Secretary of State. Prior to his appointment, Byrd spent six years — two as vice chair — on the state legislature’s Public Integrity and Elections Committee, and self-described as a local “Florida gun lawyer.”

But CNN broke Monday night that the Republican lawmaker was a featured speaker at a conference in Orlando for people who believe that President Joe Biden was elected illegitimately. The summit was overseen by Cleta Mitchell, a conservative lawyer and recurring character in the neverending saga of Trump’s attempts to subvert the 2020 election. In the months since the Jan. 6 insurrection, Mitchell has become a key figure orchestrating conservative activists’ efforts to take over election systems in key states. 

According to audio obtained by CNN, Mitchell introduced Byrd as a supporter of “election integrity,”  then praised him for participating in weekly calls she hosted with other officials.

“You’re going to be our army on the ground monitoring your local [election supervisors] to ensure that they’re doing their job right,” Byrd reportedly said in the recording of the conference obtained by CNN. He was talking to the attendees, many of whom were election security activists trained by Mitchell to take control of the upcoming midterm elections.

Similar to conservative strategist Steve Bannon, Mitchell has used a podcast — hers is called “Who’s Counting?” — to encourage those who have doubts about the legitimacy of the 2020 election to run for office or to get hired counting ballots. Backed in part by the Republican National Committee and the Conservative Partnership Institute, she’s spent the past year riling up a “volunteer army of citizens” across the country to become poll watchers and workers to influence election administration to the detriment of Democrats and their voters, whom she baselessly says cheat to win.

At the Orlando summit, Byrd told the volunteers that Florida election offices can fall victim to “incompetence” by “good people,” but that sometimes it’s “intentional,” CNN reported. He then encouraged them to bring evidence of vote tampering all the way up to the secretary of state’s office, which he now holds.

Byrd was praised as a “staunch advocate for election security” in DeSantis’ press release announcing his appointment back in May. He also expressed his intention to focus on election integrity as SoS.

“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,” he said.

Democrats in the state legislature criticized DeSantis’ appointment at the time of the announcement, describing Byrd as a “QAnon conspiracy theorist and promoter of the big lie.” (Byrd’s wife, a DeSantis appointment to the state board of education, has spoken positively about both.) State Senator Randolph Bracy (D) issued a statement warning, accurately,  that the new secretary will “be the first to oversee a new election security force which has unprecedented authority to hunt election and voting violations.”

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