Florida new elections chief off to a bad start. Denouncing Trump’s lies shouldn’t be hard | Editorial

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Florida’s new secretary of state will oversee elections in a pivotal battleground — where the 2000 presidential election was decided by 537 votes — and run a newly created office to investigate election crimes.

With so many responsibilities, it’s troubling (though not surprising) that Cord Byrd could not give a straight answer when asked Tuesday whether President Joe Biden won the 2020 elections.

Top elections officials shouldn’t fumble when faced with such a simple inquiry. State and federal judges — some appointed by President Donald Trump — threw away more than 50 baseless lawsuits challenging the 2020 results. Even former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, also appointed by Trump, said there was no evidence of widespread electoral fraud. That is backed by election officials from both parties across the country, including a Georgia official whom Trump pressured to “find” votes.

But fumble Byrd did when answering reporters’ questions at his first news conference. Perhaps sensing that repeating Trump’s big election lie went a little too far, he made a poor attempt at double speak.

“He was certified as the president. He is the president of the United States,” Byrd said of Biden. “There were irregularities in certain states. … I’m not the secretary of state of Wisconsin or Pennsylvania or Arizona. That’s up to their voters. We in Florida had a successful election in 2020. And that’s what I want to continue to have in 2022.”

Byrd should know that words carry weight. Misinformation led to the unprecedented Jan. 6 attack on U.S. Capitol.

Byrd was a state representative with little experience overseeing elections when he was tapped by Gov. Ron DeSantis to replace Laurel Lee, who’s running for Congress. Lee, also appointed by DeSantis, earned praise for her even-handedness overseeing Florida’s 2020 elections, which were considered a success for a state once famous for electoral dysfunction.

Byrd has been known as a hyper-partisan lawmaker who backed the redistricting congressional map DeSantis force-fed to lawmakers that hurts Black representation in North Florida and has been challenged in court. He also pushed other DeSantis priorities, such as the controversial “anti-riot” bill filed after Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020 and a crackdown on “sanctuary cities.”

His wife is best known for social media posts in support of the Capitol riots — which she described as as peaceful protest — the QAnon conspiracy theory and the Proud Boys, as well as for references to the “coming civil wars” between the right and the left.

Both husband and wife were rewarded for their allegiance to the most fringe elements of the Republican Party. DeSantis appointed Esther Byrd to the state Board of Education in March.

Cord Byrd’s reward will now include running the Office of Election Crimes and Security, created by GOP lawmakers despite there being no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the state. He will have unprecedented power to investigate alleged election irregularities.

How he will use that power will be important. Florida elections — including DeSantis’ 2018 victory — are usually decided by razor-thin margins. Any votes that get thrown out could make a difference.

If Byrd wants Floridians to trust he will perform his job in an unbiased manner he should revisit his latest comment.

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