Lee Stepping Down as State Elections Chief

Lee Stepping Down as State Elections Chief

By Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Secretary of State Laurel Lee, a former circuit judge who helped steer Florida through the 2020 elections, is stepping down after a little more than three years in her post.

Lee’s resignation is effective Monday and came as Florida prepares for the Aug. 23 primary elections and the Nov. 8 general election.

“Together, we protected and grew Florida’s competitive business climate, preserved Florida’s incredible historical resources, supported Florida’s arts and culture community, and strengthened Florida’s election systems,” Lee wrote Wednesday in a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Lee has received much of her attention for being Florida’s chief elections officer, a high-profile role in a state with a history of election controversies. But as head of the Department of State, she also oversees such things as the Division of Corporations, the Division of Historical Resources and the Division of Library and Information Services.

The Florida Politics website reported Thursday that Lee might run in newly redrawn Congressional District 15, a Republican-leaning district in the Tampa Bay region.

In her letter to DeSantis, Lee wrote, “I will continue to seek what’s best for the citizens of Florida and will always be proud of what we accomplished together. Thank you for the opportunity to be part of your team, and I look forward to what the future holds.”

The governor’s office did not immediately name a permanent or interim replacement. In a statement, DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said Lee “helped ensure Florida had an efficient election in 2020, with accurate results. Further, during her tenure, the Department of State formed strong partnerships with federal agencies to make sure Florida received all possible federal resources that are available to prevent and respond to cyber threats on elections.”

DeSantis appointed Lee in January 2019 after his initial appointee, Mike Ertel, resigned following the release of photos showing him wearing blackface more than a decade earlier. Lee, who is married to former state Senate President Tom Lee, previously served as a Hillsborough County circuit judge.

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, quickly expressed concerns Thursday about who would replace Lee.

“We should all be incredibly concerned on who DeSantis could appoint to this important elections position,” Eskamani tweeted. “The secretary of state also leads FL’s Arts & Culture programs, among other things.”

Many states had controversial 2020 elections, as former President Donald Trump and his supporters filed lawsuits and pushed for recounts after Trump lost. But Florida had relatively few problems, with DeSantis saying it had vanquished the “ghost” of the 2000 presidential recount and other well-documented election problems. He later said Florida held the “smoothest and most successful election of any state” in 2020 but that it couldn’t “rest on our laurels.”

Since then, Republican lawmakers and DeSantis have enacted a series of measures that Democrats, civil-rights and voting-rights groups argue make it harder for Black and Hispanic Floridians to register and vote. A bill passed this year drew heavy scrutiny, at least in part because it created an office in the Department of State to investigate alleged voting irregularities.

The state also is embroiled in legal battles about a congressional redistricting plan that DeSantis pushed through the Legislature last month. As the chief elections officer, Lee is a defendant in those lawsuits, which include allegations that the plan unconstitutionally reduces the number of districts likely to elect Black representatives.

4 Responses to "Lee Stepping Down as State Elections Chief"

  1. Current DOS employee, here. There is a lot of bad info in the comments below. It was well known and reported by Peter Schorch and other journalists/bloggers that Laurel Lee was a likely candidate for that Congressional seat. Her resignation was expected by those of us who paid attention to Twitter. I don’t think that it came as a big surprise to anyone. Her last day was actually the Monday following her resignation, not the next day. Also, qualifying for that race isn’t until next month, so it’s not too late for her to run. She absolutely wasn’t fired.

    The whistleblower case wasn’t lost in court, at least based on what you can find online about it. According to the Tallahassee Democrat it hasn’t even gone to trial on the merits, yet.

    I don’t personally know the state archaeologist and I’ve never met her but I googled her and her qualifications seem pretty robust. She’s definitely an archaeologist, at least. I don’t know the Division Director, either, but I have never heard anyone say anything bad about him. I’ve met him and he seems nice enough. Not that that really means anything.

    Sounds like some sour grapes in these comments. I’d take it all with a grain of salt.

  2. I completely agree with Deep Six. As a past employee of DHR, I had the opportunity to witness firsthand the implosion of DHR under the current division director. With all of the media stories about problems within that division, there was no action by Laurel Lee to correct the situation. She fell well short of doing her job. Here’s hoping Secretary Byrd will take notice and correct he situation.

  3. Laurel Lee was fired. She sent an email to staff last Thursday and her last day was Friday, the very next day. It’s too late for her to run in any District 15 race, that’s a bs excuse for her abrupt departure months before a very important election.
    I think she was fired for the implosion of DHR and the whistleblower case she lost in court, and the general disarray enveloping the Florida Department of State.
    Laura Lee promoted the best friend of the wife of the DHR director to be the Florida State Archaeologist and she isn’t even an archaeologist!
    The Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research Chief doesn’t possess the credentials to pull her own archaeological permit according to the U.S. Department of Interior standards. That’s a fact.

    And that is just the tip of the dysfunctional iceberg at the Florida Department of State. Steve needs to conduct a little investigation before he publishes the vapid explanations of those he is supposed to hold to account.

  4. FYI:

    “State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, quickly expressed concerns Thursday about who would replace Lee.”

    “State Rep. Cord Byrd of Neptune Beach gets picked by DeSantis as Florida secretary of state”

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