Florida, Missouri officials resist DOJ poll monitoring

The Justice Department is sending monitors to ensure compliance with federal voting rights laws.

Updated: November 8, 2022 - 11:53am

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Officials in Florida and Missouri are attempting to block the Justice Department from monitoring polls during Tuesday's midterm elections.

The efforts to resist a federal presence in local polling stations came after the department announced Monday it will monitor polls in 64 select jurisdictions across 24 states on Election Day to ensure compliance with federal voting rights laws.

In response, the administration of Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a letter to the department that federal agents being deployed to polling places throughout the state would be counterproductive and a violation of state law.

Department monitors "are not permitted inside a polling place under Florida law," wrote Brad McVay, chief counsel for the Florida Department of State. "Absent some evidence concerning the need for federal intrusion, or some federal statute that preempts Florida law, the presence of federal law enforcement inside polling places would be counterproductive and could potentially undermine confidence in the election."

McVay said the Florida Secretary of State's office would instead send its own monitors to the three counties contacted by the Justice Department to ensure "there is no interference with the voting process."

In Missouri, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft is supporting a local election official's decision to block Justice monitors from being deployed to polling places.

Cole County Clerk Steve Korsmeyer, told the Associated Press that the federal agency "won't be allowed into our polling locations," citing a state statute that gives him power in deciding who, other than election workers, is allowed to enter. 

Korsmeyer also said federal agents with whom he spoke with were "very respectful and said they wouldn't enter our polling locations on Election Day."

A U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman said: "We will have monitors outside the polling locations in Cole County to monitor compliance with federal civil rights laws. But the monitors won't go inside the buildings."

Cole County, home to Jefferson City and the state capitol, is the only Missouri jurisdiction being monitored by federal agents.

On Sunday, Ashcroft had tweeted his opposition to the Justice Department's presence in Cole County, backing Korsmeyer's efforts to resist federal monitoring.

"While the U.S. DOJ could clearly learn a lot from Missouri about non-partisanship and how to administer accessible, secure and credible elections, it would be highly inappropriate for federal agents to violate the law by intimidating Missouri voters at the polls on Election Day," he posted. "Under Missouri law, the local election authority is empowered to decide who, other than voters and poll workers, may be at polling locations. Cole County Clerk Steve Korsmeyer has rightfully declined to allow this over-reach and the secretary of state's office fully supports him."

The Justice Department said Monday its plan to send monitors is standard practice for elections.

"Since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Civil Rights Division has regularly monitored elections in the field in jurisdictions around the country to protect the rights of voters," the Department said in a statement.

The deployment of federal agents comes amid heightened concerns about election integrity in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential race.