TALLAHASSEE — Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee submitted her resignation to Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday, stepping down amid several legal challenges to state election laws and while preparations are under way for the 2022 midterms.
Lee said her last day would be Monday, a month before the candidate qualifying period begins for state and congressional races. She did not say why she was quitting.
“Together we protected and grew Florida’s competitive business climate, preserved Florida’s incredible historic resources, supported Florida’s arts and cultural community, and strengthened Florida’s election system,” Lee said in her letter to the governor.
Besides overseeing the state elections system, the secretary of state is in charge of the divisions of arts and culture, corporations, historical resources and library and information services.
“As Secretary of State, she helped ensure Florida had an efficient election in 2020, with accurate results,” said Taryn Fenske, the governor’s communications director. “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 wasted no time appointing Lee, a Hillsborough County circuit judge at the time, to replace his first Secretary of State Mike Ertel of Seminole County after photos of him in blackface emerged less than a month into his tenure.
She oversaw several election reforms and computer system upgrades that resulted in a clean, uncontested election in 2020 after years of the state being the laughingstock of election disasters.
Florida’s running of the 2020 election was held as a model for other states to follow. Nonetheless, she and the governor were pressured by several groups to audit the election amid ongoing false claims from ex-President Trump and his supporters that the election was rigged. Lee and DeSantis stood by the election results.
Lee shouldered the responsibility, however, for a massive failure of the online voting registration system on the night of the deadline to register for the Nov. 3, 2020 election. The system crashed when millions of people tried to sign into it at once and Lee extended the deadline until 7 p.m. the next day.
She was also criticized for not providing enough transparency about which counties were hacked during the 2016 elections and the steps her office was taking to prevent that from happening in the future.
The announcement, first reported by Florida Politics, comes a day after Leon Circuit Judge Layne Smith, a DeSantis appointee, ruled that the state’s congressional redistricting plan was unconstitutional because it diminished the ability of Black voters in North Florida Congressional District 5 to elect their own candidate.
Smith has issued an injunction preventing implementation of the map, drawn by DeSantis’ staffers after he vetoed the redistricting plan approved by the Legislature during regular session. The state is likely to appeal the ruling.
Meanwhile, several voting rights groups refiled a revamped federal suit Thursday against the congressional redistricting plan.
Both the injunction and Lee’s resignation are happening with candidate qualifying fast approaching. A records search of the Division of Elections found no evidence that Lee has filed to run for office.
“We’re sorry to see her go as Secretary of State,” Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley said. “She’s been a great partner with getting resources in supervisors’ hands, she improved our cybersecurity posture and was proactive building a partnership between federal, state and local agencies.”