Elec­tions chief to be sec­re­tary of state

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Local - By Steven Le­mon­gello sle­mon­[email protected] or­lan­dosen­tinel.com, 407-418-5920, @stevele­mon­gello, face­book/stevele­mon­gello

Semi­nole County Su­per­vi­sor of Elec­tions Mike Er­tel on Fri­day was named Florida’s next Sec­re­tary of State by Gov.-elect Ron DeSan­tis.

Er­tel, 49, a Repub­li­can who has served as Semi­nole’s elec­tions chief since 2005, “has proven that he is vastly qual­i­fied to lead the state’s elec­tions ef­forts as Sec­re­tary of State, and will strive to en­sure that Florida vot­ers are con­fi­dent that elec­tions con­tinue to be fair and ac­cu­rate,” DeSan­tis said in a state­ment.

The sec­re­tary of state is in charge of the Divi­sion of Elec­tions, with out­go­ing sec­re­tary Ken Det­zner a prom­i­nent fig­ure dur­ing last month’s statewide re­count.

In an in­ter­view, Er­tel said be­ing sec­re­tary of state is “a very big job that goes be­yond just elec­tions,” with DeSan­tis also cit­ing the de­part­ment’s work in pre­serv­ing his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural her­itage, pro­vid­ing ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion and help­ing cities with grant pro­grams.

But, he ac­knowl­edged, “the most high-pro­file thing we’ll re­ally fo­cus on in the be­gin­ning is help es­tab­lish trust in the [elec­tion] process among Florida vot­ers.”

In Novem­ber, there were con­tro­ver­sies over bal­lot de­sign and slow vote count­ing in Broward and Palm Beach coun­ties, as well as a rogue su­per­vi­sor in Bay County who counted emailed and faxed bal­lots. But Er­tel said the state needs to high­light the work of the coun­ties who did “a great job” dur­ing the elec­tion and re­count.

“We need to in­still the best prac­tices to en­sure all coun­ties run as well as [those did],” Er­tel said. “And on a state level, we have to make sure we do what we can do to give coun­ties the tools they need to run great elec­tions.”

Er­tel earned bi­par­ti­san praise, with state Rep. Car­los Guillermo Smith, D-Or­lando, call­ing him “a good, qual­i­fied choice — an up­grade from cur­rent lead­er­ship.”

“We may not agree on ev­ery­thing, but he’s not a Repub­li­can hack; he’s rea­son­able,” Smith said. “I hope he uses his in­flu­ence to thwart any Amend­ment 4 [felon vot­ing rights] shenani- gans and is open to the com­mon sense elec­tions re­forms Florida des­per­ately needs. I look for­ward to work­ing with him.”

Er­tel, who pre­vi­ously ap­plied for the sec­re­tary of state po­si­tion after Kurt Brown­ing re­signed in

2012, has long been ac­tive on so­cial me­dia, pro­vid­ing com­men­tary and opin­ions on Twit­ter and Face­book about elec­tions is­sues.

In 2017, he threw cold wa­ter on Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s claim that “mil­lions” voted il­le­gally in the 2016 elec­tion.

“To be clear: voter fraud is likely one of the least com­mit­ted felonies in Amer­ica and bar­ring sys­tem-wide col­lu­sion, it is sim­ply not the case that ‘mil­lions voted il­le­gally’,” Er­tel wrote.

His of­fice has also re­ceived plau­dits for its stu­dent reg­is­tra­tion pro­gram, which earned it a pres­ti­gious First Time Vot­ers Award in

2017 from the In­ter­na­tional Elec­tions Awards in Jor­dan.

“You are among the least likely peo­ple to vote,” Er­tel told the stu­dents at Hagerty High School in Oviedo in April. “The older you are, the more likely you are to vote — and politi­cians know that. Prove them wrong in Novem­ber. Go out in Novem­ber and vote.”

Er­tel has called for clos­ing the loop­hole that al­lows a sin­gle write-in can­di­date to close off pri­maries, say­ing he would work with the Leg­is­la­ture “to en­sure the process is fair for ev­ery­body, and that in­cludes [ad­dress­ing] the write-in loop­hole.”

He has also stressed pro­tect­ing Florida’s elec­tions sys­tems from hack­ers and de­fended the cur­rent mail-in bal­lot dead­lines after the con­tro­versy in Novem­ber over thou­sands of re­jected bal­lots, say­ing vot­ers needed to en­sure they mailed in their bal­lots as early as pos­si­ble.

Er­tel at­tended the Univer­sity of Mary­land Univer­sity Col­lege and is a grad­u­ate of the jour­nal­ism pro­gram at the De­fense In­for­ma­tion School, a De­part­ment of De­fense school that trains com­mu­ni­ca­tions spe­cial­ists. Er­tel also com­pleted the Crum­mer mini-MBA at Rollins Col­lege in 2015.

MI­AMI CHIL­DREN’S MU­SEUM/COUR­TESY

The Mi­ami Chil­dren’s Mu­seum will fea­ture a bal­loon drop at noon dur­ing its New Year’s Eve cel­e­bra­tion.

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