Missouri officials argue with feds over election oversight

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft supports a local election official’s decision to block the U.S. Justice Department from monitoring Tuesday’s election in Cole County.

As part of its duties to enforce federal suffrage laws, the Department of Justice announced Monday he would be on the ground in 64 jurisdictions across 24 states for the midterm elections.

The only location in Missouri is Cole County, home to Jefferson City and the State Capitol.

But Cole County Clerk Steve Korsmeyer said no to on-site visits to polling places. Ashcroft, a Republican who plans to run for governor in 2024supports him, accusing the federal government of trying to “bully” local election workers.

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“While the US DOJ could clearly learn a great deal from Missouri about political impartiality and how to administer accessible, secure and credible elections, it would be totally inappropriate for federal agents to break the law by intimidating voters across the country. Missouri at the polls on Election Day,” Ashcroft said in a tweet on Monday.

Korsmeyer told The Associated Press, “The DOJ will not be allowed into our polling places,” citing a state law that gives it the power to decide who, other than election workers, is allowed to enter. enter the polling stations. He said the federal agents he spoke to were “very respectful and said they would not enter our polling places on Election Day.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office confirmed the statement.

“We will have monitors outside polling places in Cole County to monitor compliance with federal civil rights laws. But monitors will not go inside buildings,” the DOJ spokesperson said.

Ashcroft spokesman JoDonn Chaney said DOJ officials met with attorneys for the secretary of state on Monday. But he said Justice Department officials did not tell Ashcroft why they wanted to visit the polls.

“They tell us we have complaints about you, but they don’t tell us what they are,” Chaney said. “Whatever the problem, tell us what it is. But they don’t do that. How can we fix it if we don’t know what the problem is? »

Korsmeyer received a letter from the department in October stating that it had received complaints alleging that the clerk’s office “failed to provide an accessible voting machine at each polling place in previous elections.”

The letter says the Justice Department is opening an investigation into the allegations.

This is not the first time that the Ministry of Justice has assigned observers to an election. In 2001, for example, Ashcroft’s father, then Attorney General John Ashcroft, also a Republican, oversaw a vote integrity initiative following the disputed 2000 presidential election.

Along with the Oct. 27 letter, Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles M. Thomas requested a meeting with Korsmeyer on Thursday to outline a plan for attorneys working with the Justice Department’s Disability Rights Section to visit and observe the offices. voting in and around Jefferson City on Tuesday. .

“Rest assured that we understand that you will be administering the election and we will try to minimize the time we spend at each site,” Thomas wrote in an email.

The national surveillance plan is not a surprise. Two weeks ago, US lawyers across the country laid out their goals to prevent the 2022 general election from being tainted by the same false allegations of voter fraud that rocked the 2020 election and have been repeatedly pushed by former President Donald Trump and other Republicans in the running. – until this year’s contests.

Teresa Moore, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri, issued a statement in October that said voting is the cornerstone of American democracy.

“We must all ensure that those who are entitled to the right to vote can exercise it if they wish and that those who seek to corrupt it are brought to justice,” Moore said.

Federal law protects against crimes such as threatening violence against election officials or staff, intimidating or bribing voters, buying and selling votes, impersonating voters, altering vote counting, ballot box stuffing and ballot marking for voters against their will or without their contribution.

The federal law also contains protections for the rights of voters and provides that they can vote without interference, including intimidation, and other acts intended to prevent or discourage people from voting or voting for their candidate. choice.

But Ashcroft said that under Missouri law, the local election authority has the authority to decide who, other than voters and election officials, can be at polling places.

At the same time, the United States Attorney’s Office is authorized under federal law to determine whether a clerk is in compliance with the American with Disabilities Act and can determine whether it can be voluntarily corrected or whether an action in justice must be served.

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