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Contact: Mark Ard
850-245-6522
[email protected]

Florida Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee Credits Governor DeSantis for Successful Election Year

Tallahassee, Fla. –

In a year that included a presidential election cycle, the Florida Department of State successfully administered three safe, secure and orderly elections while carrying out its mission of preserving the state’s historical resources, sharing Florida’s rich cultural heritage, supporting libraries and archives research and contributing to a favorable business climate. The clear vision and decisive leadership from Governor Ron DeSantis paved the way for the Department of State to achieve these accomplishments.

“Governor DeSantis has prioritized elections security and integrity since taking office. His strategic investments in modernizing and strengthening our elections infrastructure made us stronger, and his executive orders on elections ensured we were prepared to meet any challenges we faced during the elections,” said Florida Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee. “The orderly, secure, and safe voting process Florida voters experienced in 2020 is a credit to his leadership. Building off of our successes this year, I look forward to advancing the Department’s mission even further in 2021.”

Some of the key accomplishments of the Florida Department of State in 2020 include:

2020 Election Year Highlights

Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) Membership

At the direction of Governor DeSantis, in 2019 Florida joined the Electronic Registration Information Center; a collaboration between 30 member states designed to increase voter registration and improve the accuracy of our voter rolls, reducing the potential for fraud.  

  • Statewide Voter Registration Campaign – Florida identified over 2.2 million potentially eligible but unregistered Florida voters. In its first ever statewide voter registration campaign, the Department of State mailed postcards in early September to all potentially eligible Floridians to encourage registration before the General Election 2020, and to provide information about voting options in Florida.
  • Voter Registration Increase – As a result of concerted efforts to reach unregistered voters and to encourage participation in elections, Florida experienced the highest voter registration numbers ever, with a 6.6% increase over the last year, totaling 14.4 million registered voters.
  • Protecting Voter Rolls – Florida took a proactive step to enhance the accuracy of the voter rolls. Through Florida’s membership in ERIC and in partnership with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, we are able to improve the accuracy of voter rolls by using driver license and state identification records, social security records, and voter records from other states to ensure Florida’s voter registration records are accurate and up to date.

Strengthening Cybersecurity and Elections Infrastructure

Through an unprecedented level of funding, collaboration, and strategic planning, Florida was able to secure the elections and provide confidence in the integrity our results.

  • Joint Election Security Initiative (JESI) – Launched in 2019 at the direction of Governor DeSantis, this unprecedented partnership between the Florida Department of State and all 67 Supervisors of Elections in Florida achieved its aim of assessing and strengthening the State of Florida’s cybersecurity and elections infrastructure ahead of the 2020 election cycle.
  • Office of Information Security –The Governor and the Legislature invested in our long term success by supporting and funding a dedicated Cyber Security Bureau at the Department of State with 10 full time positions. This Bureau protects all of the Department’s mission-critical systems, especially as it relates to elections, and will continue to provide cybersecurity support to Supervisors of Elections across the state.
  • Election Security Partners – Florida continued its mission critical partnerships with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to ensure timely access to intelligence information and a coordinated response to any threats to physical or cybersecurity. Department leadership engaged in regular briefings with federal partners and collaborated with the FBI and CISA to provide training and prevention exercises for local elections officials.
  • Cybersecurity Education – The Department hired full time Cyber Navigators, who provided in-person and virtual cybersecurity training at the Department and for Supervisors of Elections and their staff across the state.

International Affairs

  • Affairs of State Returns to the Florida Department of State – With Governor DeSantis’s leadership, the Florida Legislature returned the Office of International Affairs to the Department of State. The Florida Department of State works closely with the Consular Corps to develop and foster diplomatic and cultural ties. The Department will host a Summit for the Consular Corps in 2021, and will develop the State Protocol Manual.

Legal Affairs

  • Successful Defense of Legal Challenges – While the 2020 election cycle saw armies of lawyers file dozens of lawsuits and hundreds of claims against Florida’s election laws, none succeeded.  The General Counsel’s Office defended the constitutionality of each and every provision of Florida law.  These important litigation results established or defended clear rules and timelines for the 2020 General Election.  These clear rules and timelines provided predictability and stability in the law.  And this predictability and stability contributed to a smooth election where more Floridians voted than ever before—and did so during a pandemic; Florida tallied its votes accurately and on time; there were no long lines; drop boxes were used for the first time statewide; and our election infrastructure remained secure. 

Voting

  • Executive Order 20-149 – Governor Ron DeSantis’ Executive Order ensured that local elections officials had the support they needed to administer elections during the pandemic, and that the voting process was secure and safe for voters and elections workers. The Executive Order lays out four innovative and practical solutions that ensured: increased time to canvass vote-by-mail ballots; administrative leave incentives for state employees to train and serve as poll workers; public schools to be used as potential polling locations; and that personal protective equipment was made available for counties in need.
  • Voters with Disabilities – Before the 2020 Primary Election, the Division of Elections tested and approved Democracy Live’s OmniBallot—an online software ballot delivery system application used to facilitate accessibility voting.  This certification expanded upon existing voting options for persons with disabilities to ensure compliance under the Americans with Disabilities Accessibility Act and the Florida Americans with Disabilities Implementation Act.
  • Spanish Language Outreach – To achieve the Department’s commitments of voter outreach and promotion, the State revised rules to ensure, for the first time, the availability of Spanish ballots and assistance at the polls in all 67 counties. The Department also ensured that voter assistance was available in English and Spanish, and that all voter outreach and education materials from the Department of State were produced in both English and Spanish – expanding our outreach and connection with Florida’s Spanish-speaking voters.
  • Voter Assistance – The Division of Elections staff fielded more than13,000 emails and 80,000 calls through the voter assistance hotline with almost 40% of those calls received in the 29 days between the General Election Book-closing on October 6th and Election Day on November 3rd. 

CARES Act Funding

  • Elections Administration During a Pandemic – Florida was awarded over $20.2M in CARES Act funding for election security. The Department of State made the entirety of the award available to the counties. To date, more than $15.1 million has been distributed to counties in a manner that best serves the individual county’s voter community, ensures the health, safety and well-being of voters and the election workforce, including poll workers, and provide for fair, accessible and secure elections. It is anticipated that the remainder of the funds will be provided to the counties as reimbursement for funds expended.
  • Funding the Arts – The Division of Cultural Affairs, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts through the CARES Act distributed $602,800 to 314 arts and cultural organizations.
  • Libraries – In addition to the traditional library grant programs, the Bureau of Library Development accepted grant applications for $1,940,696 in CARES Act funding. The State Library Council recommended that 25 of the 46 submitted applications be funded.

 Adapting Services During a Pandemic

  • Virtual Museum Education – The Department of State’s four historical museums (including Mission San Luis, Museum of Florida History, Knott House Museum, and The Grove Museums) used their social media platforms to engage the public with programs and tours, all of which foster greater understanding and appreciation of Florida history and culture. The museums increased their online activities to maintain existing connections with their audiences and also to attract new audiences. Virtual programs were geared to both children and adults.
  • Business Services - Even while required to close for the health and safety of the public and Department employees, the Division of Corporations’ services provided online, by mail, email and phone have remained operational in order to meet the needs of Florida’s business communities and business owners.
  • Library and Information Services – Remote services were expanded and adapted to continue providing citizens and government agency employees with the resources they need while adhering to state and national public health guidelines.
  • Continued Training – The Bureau of Archives and Records Management developed additional options for online records management training and State Archives and Florida Memory instructional presentations; enhanced historical research services in the State Archives’ collections while the building is closed to the public; and developed protocols for touchless State Records Center pickups and deliveries.
  • State Library Curbside Pickup – Bureau of Library and Network Services staff continued to provide library services to state employees and the general public. In addition to assisting people by phone, email and mail, staff worked to bolster and promote the State’s electronic resources and developed procedures that allowed us to provide a curbside pick-up service. 
  • Staying Connected Across Florida – The Bureau of Library Development pivoted traditional in-person services to electronic format. A few examples include grant panel meetings, the Division Orientation, and the Annual Public Library Directors Meeting. In addition, new virtual discussion opportunities were introduced in order to stay connected to library staff across Florida.

19th Amendment Centennial Commemoration

  • Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission – Secretary Lee served as a member of the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission, which was created to recognize the centennial of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution and ensure a suitable statewide observance of the centennial of women’s suffrage in 2020. Members of the Commission developed numerous events and plans to commemorate this important anniversary in Florida.
  • Website – Staff from the Office of the Secretary, Division of Historical Resources, and Division of Library and Information Services staff served on the Department of State’s internal Suffrage Centennial Working Group to develop and launch the new website CelebrateSuffrageFlorida.com. The website includes facts about the struggle for women’s suffrage, profiles of some of the Floridians who engaged in the fight, as well as online resources and events to help the public further explore the topic.
  • Video – The Department of State produced a video featuring Secretary Lee that provides Florida’s historical perspective in the struggle to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. The video is a centerpiece of the CelebrateSuffrageFlorida.com website.
  • Exhibits – Florida Memory staff completed and launched the online exhibit In Her Own Words: Remarkable Women in 20th-Century Florida. The exhibit went live on August 24, 2020, featuring letters from 15 Florida women who challenged the status quo as they strove to improve their lives and the lives of others. In the letters, selected from the collections of the State Archives, these women voice their thoughts and opinions about the causes they were most passionate about.

Museums

  • The Grove Museum hosted 41 virtual programs and 26 virtual group tours; the Grove Museum also added virtual resources to its website, resulting in a combined website and social media reach of more than 277,569.
  • Museum of Florida History and Knott House Museum produced 62 recorded videos ranging from exhibit tours, storybook readings, historical talks, and craft activities. The Knott House quickly shifted the annual 20th of May Emancipation Celebration to virtual, reaching more than 18,000 people.
  • Mission San Luis created a Virtual Summer Camp for children and families that consisted of 12 weeks of recorded content, lessons, and activities related to the 17th century National Historic Landmark.
  • Visitors – The Department of State’s museums welcomed more than 2,000 on-site visitors through on-site events, tours, and programs prior to March 19, 2020.

Florida Memory

  • Expanding Florida Memory – The State Archives continued support and expansion of the Florida Memory Program, enabling Floridians to access more digitized historical records than ever before on a brand new, more secure website and to participate in the program by volunteering to assist with transcription and indexing of those records to enhance access to tens of thousands of individual documents.

Supporting Florida’s Favorable Business Climate

  • Executive Order No. 20-52 and DOS Emergency Order 2020-01 – Governor DeSantis provided additional time for business entities to file annual reports during the pandemic. Signed March 27, 2020, the order extended time requirements for business entities to file annual reports until June 30, 2020.  Any profit corporation, limited liability company, limited partnership or limited liability limited partnership annual report filing had until July 1, 2020, before a $400 late fee was assessed.
  • Expanding Notary Services - The Division of Corporations launched the State of Florida’s new Remote Online Notary application and commission process.  Effective January 1, 2020, Florida Notaries Public, Civil Law Notaries and Commissioners of Deeds could apply to the division to provide electronic notarization services in the state of Florida.  To date, the division has granted Remote Online Notary status to 5,773 Notaries Public, 3 Civil Law Notaries and 1 Commissioner of Deeds.
  • Maintaining a Competitive Edge - The Division implemented the newly updated filing provisions of the Florida Business Corporation Act (aka Chapter 607, F.S.), which became effective January 1, 2020.  The new provisions allow Florida’s businesses to remain competitive in today’s global business environment and Florida’s citizens to benefit from new modernized and harmonized business entity statutes and registrations. 
  • Developing Florida’s Business Landscape – The Federal & State Compliance and Review Section reviewed over 10,000 projects in 2020. These projects include federal and state permitted activities related to commercial and residential development, hurricane and disaster response, and installation of 5G cell phone towers. The Compliance Section plays a crucial federally and state mandated review role for development projects, and help contribute to project completion and Florida’s strong economy.

Serving Military Personnel and Veterans

  • Supporting Military Families – The Division of Cultural Affairs distributed 1120 copies of Counting the Days, a 32-page, full-color children's picture book written and illustrated by National Award-Winning author/illustrator and Florida artist Janeen Mason, to military bases in Florida. Counting the Days tells the story of a military family during a parent’s deployment, and is part of the Division’s ongoing initiative with the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network.
  • Deploying the Arts to Connect Veteran Populations –  Florida’s arts in medicine programs are national models, and the Arts & the Military Summit held this December will increase the impact of new and existing arts in the military programs, including tele-arts programs, to reach rural military and veteran populations.  This summit is aimed at gaining a better understanding of benefits, impacts and most effective systems of delivery for the arts to support trauma-exposed rural and remote veteran populations in community and clinical settings while building network support for these activities. The summit will specifically consider the powerful opportunities for social connection and exploration of nuanced cultural conversations the arts provide for this population.

Disaster Relief

  • Helping Communities Recover Their Identity in Wake of Disaster – The Division of Historical Resources received over $12 million from the National Park Service to subgrant for the purpose of disaster recovery activities following Hurricanes Irma and Michael. The Division awarded over $4.8 million to repair historic properties that were damaged by Hurricane Irma, and is reviewing applications for assistance for over $8 million to aid in the repair of historic properties damaged by Hurricane Michael.

Sharing Florida’s Rich Historical and Cultural Resources

  • Mary McLeod Bethune Statue –The Architect of the U. S. Capitol gave approval to begin carving the eight foot, two-ton marble sculpture of one of Florida’s most influential Civil Rights leaders. The approval came without any suggested changes which speaks volumes to the talent of the artist, Nilda Comas. The block of marble is one of the last blocks to come out of the Italian Alps cave where Michelangelo selected his marble for works such as his David. Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune will join John Gorrie as Florida’s contributions to National Statuary Hall where each state is allowed two statues. All funding for this project are private funds raised by the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Statuary Fund, Inc.
  • Preserving Florida’s Historic Landmarks – The Historic Preservation Grants Program contributed to the preservation of several of Florida’s most iconic and historic buildings through its historic preservation grants program, including providing funding for rehabilitation work at the Stranahan House (Broward County), the Stetson University College of Law (Pinellas County), St. John’s Episcopal Church (Leon County), the Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart (Miami-Dade County), and the Lake Park Town Hall (Palm Beach County).
  • Celebrating 50 Years as Florida’s Arts Agency– In honor of its 50th Anniversary, the Division of Cultural Affairs published the commemorative booklet 50 Stories for 50 Years. Showcasing the ways Division partnership has connected cultural funding opportunities and services to Florida’s citizens and visitors, 50 Stories for 50 Years highlights some of the Division of Cultural Affairs’ grantee partners from the past five decades, each with a unique story and a unique impact on the people of Florida.
  • Inaugural Historic Preservation Conference Gathers Over 300 Participants – The Bureau of Historical Preservation Florida Main Street Program partnered with the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation for the first time to offer a combined annual conference. Over 300 attendees from across the state representing non-profit preservation organizations, city and county officials and urban planners, architects, and preservation professions participated in a series of virtual conference sessions that highlighted community-based revitalization initiatives.
  • Thousands of Hours Logged During 2020 Panel Season – This year Cultural Affairs hosted 27 separate webinar panel meetings for a total of 707 eligible arts and cultural grant applications. Panel meetings are at the heart of the grants review and scoring process. Panelists are chosen for their knowledge and expertise in each discipline and agree to lend their time to ensure the integrity and transparency of this process. A corps of 188 volunteers donated more than 5,250 hours to reading, scoring and making comments on applications. When combined with closing out the Division’s previous year grants and drafting contracts for the current year awards, the Division is managing more than 1,820 grants.
  • Florida Historic Shipwreck Database – The Bureau of Archaeological Research created the Florida Historic Shipwreck Database, a searchable geo-referenced database of Florida’s historic shipwrecks, with more than 900 entries. The database will serve as a valuable tool for research and education.
  • Poet Laureate Selection Moving Forward – From a group of 14 nominees, the Florida Council on Arts and Culture has selected five candidates that have been submitted to the Secretary of State for further consideration. The Secretary will select three to send to the Governor for final appointment. The Poet Laureate is an honorary position that promotes reading, writing and the appreciation of poetry throughout the state and encourages students to express themselves through poetry and reading out loud.
  • Preserving Department of State’s Historic Buildings – The Division of Historical Resources completed significant historic preservation work on the Knott House and on the Call-Collins House and Burr Cottage at The Grove. These properties are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Widening Pathways to Grant Funding – After a 10-month assessment of a Grantmaking Task Force, the Department is using their recommendations to create more accessible pathways through the application process, refining the funding process and developing ways to reach underserved areas of the state. These improvements will assist the Department with achieving its three key strategic issues in the 2020-2025 Strategic Plan.
  • 25 Properties Added to National Register –The National Register of Historic Places program successfully listed 25 historically significant properties in the National Register of historic places in 2020.
  • Council on Arts and Culture Welcomes Six New Members – Patricia Frost, Lisa Burgess, Frank Gromling, Richard Forsyth, Tara Forman and Carroll Hanley Goggin replace outgoing members Lois Benson, Tim Deratany, Katharine Dickenson, Glenn Lochrie, Hope McMath and one open appointment. The new members received orientation and training from Division staff and were able to participate in the review and scoring of Cultural Facilities grants within two weeks of having been appointed. 
  • Promoting Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail – The Bureau of Archaeological Research, using Gulf Tourism and Seafood Promotional Funds, Underwater staff developed a ~$94,000 promotional videography project to advertise the Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail (FPST). The FPST is a series of 12 shipwrecks located offshore of Pensacola, Destin, Panama City, and Port St. Joe that is accessible to divers. Information about the wrecks is included on the FPST website, at floridapanhandledivetrail.com. Its purpose is to stimulate tourism and educate residents and visitors about Florida’s history. The Bureau secured a production company, and worked in conjunction with local Panhandle businesses and stakeholders concerning selection of 8 additional shipwrecks to include in the FPST, bringing the total number of shipwrecks on the trail to 20. While filming for the promotional video was postponed due to COVID-19, work behind-the-scenes continues with website updates and article-writing for an eventual media release. 
  • New Main Street Communities Selected – The Florida Main Street program added four Main Street communities – Glenwood and Millville in Panama City, Fort Mead, and Allapattah in Miami. This brings the total number of Main Street communities to 49. The Main Street Program helps revitalize and promote local businesses, restaurants, economic activity by utilizing a multi-point approach developed by the National Main Street center, which offers a framework for community-based revitalization incentives. Above all, Main Streets maintain their commitment to their communities to provide leadership and ingenuity at all times, and demonstrate their own ability to adapt to a changing environment.
  • Record Number of Historical Resources Added to Master Site File – Florida Master site file is the state’s inventory of historic and cultural resources, consisting of over 230,000 sites and counting. Since July 1 the Florida Master Site File has processed more than 12,000 site forms into the state inventory. Approximately 10,000 of these represent newly recorded resources. This shatters the old record for a single year and is due to the unprecedented number of surveys funded through the Historic Preservation Grants program.

Supporting Libraries and Archives Research

  • Training Tomorrow’s Archivists – The State Archives of Florida provided a Managing Archives and Historical Records workshop at Florida Gateway College in Lake City to representatives from Florida libraries, historical records repositories and cultural heritage institutions who have responsibilities for historical records but no formal archival training. The workshop provided these individuals with an understanding of the core concepts of professional archival practice necessary to properly manage the irreplaceable collections of documents, photographs, journals, audio and video recordings, and other historical records that connect us to our past, form our legacy to future generations, and inform the decisions of our government.
  • Classroom Outreach – State Archives staff worked extensively with public schools, including Leon County and Orange County, to develop and train educators in using historical records in classroom instructional activities that are aligned with Florida curriculum standards.
  • Research Guides –The State Archives issued a Legislative Research Guide for use by patrons to further understand and use legislative records at the State Archives. It provides background information on legislative committee records and guidance on how to access the records and includes a complete list of all State Archives legislative holdings as well as a list of related legislative resources available from other sources.
  • Florida Crossroads Episode – State Archives and State Library staff worked extensively with the Secretary’s Office and WFSU/The Florida Channel in production of an episode of Florida Crossroads featuring Florida Memory and the collections of the State Archives and State Library. The episode, released on June 12, 2020, highlights significant documents, photographs and films from the collections and shows how Floridians can access those resources through the Florida Memory website.
  • Highways and Byways – State Library staff digitized and made accessible the entire run of Florida Highways. Published from 1923-1953 by the State Road Department, Florida Highways provides a snapshot of the history of Florida roadwork and construction projects.
  • Wild Florida – In collaboration with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, staff from the State Library digitized and made accessible the magazine, Florida Wildlife.  Published from 1947-1979 Florida Wildlife is full of administrative news, articles, photographs and artwork.
  • FLIN SHAREit -- The State Library implemented a new statewide program for all of Florida’s libraries called FLIN SHAREit. This new service offers a platform for libraries to use to share library materials among Florida libraries. FLIN SHAREit increases the discoverability of the collections of Florida’s libraries, allows libraries to see a cost savings from being able to participate in a statewide service rather than subscribe to a local service and enables Florida’s library users to benefit from a wealth of information that they may not have had prior access to.
  • Sunshine State Library Leadership Institute – The Sunshine State Library Leadership Institute (SSLLI) graduated 38 individuals from its 16th year of the program. The two cohorts were originally located in Clay and Martin counties. The participants finished the program in the virtual environment and organized and held the first virtual graduation ceremony. For some time, staff of the Bureau of Library Development have been considering what the logical next step is for the Institute. After consideration and deliberation by Institute staff and faculty and Bureau staff, it was decided to launch the Next Level Library Leadership Institute. This program will allow a few past SSLLI graduates to further explore leadership topics with a virtual cohort.