TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s elections supervisors have a message for elected officials: “Tone down the rhetoric.”
In a plea to officials at “all levels of government,” the group representing the state’s Republican and Democratic county elections officials are asking them to denounce “false claims” surrounding last year’s election.
“During and after the 2020 Presidential Election, the integrity of our democracy has been challenged by misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation that sows discord and undermines trust in America’s electoral process,” the memo states. “Many of us have been threatened by our fellow citizens who have been led astray by these deceptions.
“Instead of standing idly by, we ask all candidates and elected officials to tone down the rhetoric and stand up for our democracy.”
The memo was considered extraordinary for the Florida Supervisors of Elections, the organization representing the officials overseeing elections in the state’s 67 counties. Despite Florida’s turbulent history with elections, supervisors have largely stayed out of the limelight, even while Florida legislators were passing a contentious voting reform bill this year.
Thursday’s memo is overdue, said Marion County Elections Supervisor Wesley Wilcox, president of the Florida Supervisors of Elections.
“In hindsight, we probably should have done it 8 or 9 months ago,” Wilcox said. “But it needs to be done, just to protect the foundation of this democracy.”
He said the memo is directed at elected officials everywhere — including those who have praised Florida’s smooth handling of the 2020 election while failing to denounce claims of fraud in Florida in other states.
“You can’t continue to knock it down and expect it to survive,” Wilcox said of the country’s democracy. “If we don’t stand up and start doing this for ourselves, nobody else is. Nobody else is coming to our rescue.”
Wilcox, a Republican, said the memo was not directed at any party or politician. Nor was it directed at Florida legislators who passed a bill making changes to the state’s elections this year.
Florida has been largely spared the divisive recounts and rhetoric in other states, perhaps because former President Donald Trump, who has claimed voter fraud cost him the 2020 election, won the state by a substantial margin of 371,686 votes. But Gov. Ron DeSantis, a staunch Trump ally, did not quickly acknowledge that President Joe Biden won the election. DeSantis also pushed state lawmakers to pass a hotly debated series of voting reforms that included a ban on “ballot harvesting” — the strategy of collecting vote-by-mail ballots door-to-door that Florida Republicans have used for 20 years.
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The only significant instance of voter fraud found in Florida last year is a scandal in Miami where prosecutors say a former Republican state senator illegally recruited and paid an acquaintance to run in a state senate race, siphoning away votes from the Democrat and helping the Republican win.
Although he has, as governor, defended the performance of Florida’s election system in 2020, his political campaign on Wednesday was trying to raise money by implying Democrats committed election fraud in other states last year.
“In the 2020 election, Democrats tried every trick in the book,” DeSantis wrote in Wednesday’s fundraising email. “They used the pandemic as an excuse to change election laws in ways that are unconstitutional and ripe for fraud and abuse in our elections. This included the mass sending of unsolicited mail-in ballots, bans on voter ID, ballot harvesting, and unattended ballot drop boxes in states across the country.”
Wilcox said Thursday’s memo was approved by his members and was being sent to elections supervisors around the country. A separate memo to the public is expected to be sent out this week.
While he hasn’t faced death threats, Wilcox said he’s had to counter baseless conspiracy theories that have been posted online since November and that other supervisors have faced threats. Calls to audit Florida’s election have also grown, although DeSantis and other officials have refused another review of the state’s results.
For the first time ever, Florida’s elections supervisors had to have security during their meeting this summer.
“That’s a sad commentary,” he said. “That’s why we’re doing this.”