Florida

DeSantis names Seminole County elections chief as Florida secretary of state

Michael Ertel, former Seminole County elections supervisor and newly appointed Florida secretary of state, speaks during a panel on elections issues in 2013.
Michael Ertel, former Seminole County elections supervisor and newly appointed Florida secretary of state, speaks during a panel on elections issues in 2013. AP

Michael Ertel, Seminole County’s supervisor of elections since 2005, has been named to oversee elections statewide by Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis.

DeSantis’ transition team on Friday announced the appointment of Ertel, a 49-year-old Republican, as secretary of state, a position that requires Senate confirmation.

Along with overseeing elections, Ertel will run a state department that also includes the Division of Corporations, the Division of Cultural Affairs, the Division of Historical Resources and the Division of Library and Information Services.

“I look forward to Mike bringing not only his elections expertise to Florida voters, but his steady leadership to the Department of State, as it seeks to improve the quality of life for all Floridians through its various activities, including preserving the state’s historical and cultural heritage; maintaining an open government by providing all Florida citizens access to information; and, enhancing Florida communities through business-friendly grant programs,” DeSantis said in a prepared statement.

Ertel, who was first appointed as Seminole County supervisor by then-Gov. Jeb Bush and then was elected by voters four times, will replace Secretary of State Ken Detzner. Gov. Rick Scott in January 2012 appointed Detzner, who is paid $142,000 a year.

After Friday’s announcement, Ertel tweeted that DeSantis “has a bold vision for Florida. I am proud to be a part of his team!”

Groups such as the League of Women Voters of Florida have often clashed with Detzner and his department. Asked for comment about Ertel, League of Women Voters President Patti Brigham said the organization looks “forward to working with Florida’s new secretary of state on many vital election issues, most immediately the implementation of Amendment 4.”

Questions have swirled in recent weeks about how the state will move forward with Amendment 4, a ballot measure approved by voters in the Nov. 6 election. That measure will automatically restore the voting rights of most felons after they have fulfilled their sentences.

His name also is likely to be in the news next year as the 2018 midterm recounts and calls to investigate claims of voter fraud will likely spur election-related discussion and legislation during the 2019 legislative session.

Ertel, who grew up in Seminole County, served eight years with the U.S. Army. His service included a stint as a public-affairs representative, and he was part of Operation Able Sentry in which the Army set up a base in Macedonia to monitor sanctions against Serbia.

In returning home, Ertel served as Seminole County’s first public information officer and worked for the state’s tourism marketing agency, Visit Florida, before he was appointed county elections supervisor.

After the 2012 presidential election, in which Florida was criticized nationally for long lines and other issues that caused irritation for voters, Ertel defended how the election was conducted.

“We had a good election statewide in Florida; we have to remember this,” Ertel told members of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee in January 2013. As to late-night jokes at the expense of the state, Ertel added: “I don’t care what Jay Leno thinks. I care what Florida voters think.”

In July 2017, Ertel took to Twitter as privacy concerns mounted about data breaches and identity theft in response to a special commission created by President Donald Trump that sought voter information — including dates of birth, party affiliation, and the last four digits of Social Security numbers.

Ertel tweeted that he had spent “the past several days” trying to convince voters to remain registered.

“In my 12 years in office, I’ve never had to have this many of these conversations,” Ertel tweeted. “Please don’t let an action you disagree with have the effect of silencing your most powerful tool to change or affirm it: your vote.”

Samantha J. Gross of the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau contributed to this report.
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