One Missouri county generated headlines in the lead-up to the midterm elections after county leaders were informed that the U.S. Department of Justice informed it that it would be dispatching poll watchers from its Civil Rights Division to monitor voting on Election Day.
According to KTTN-TV, Cole County Clerk Steve Korsmeyer opened a letter sent from Teresa Moore, the U.S. attorney for Missouri’s western district, who had informed Korsmeyer that her office had received complaints stemming from past elections that accused county officials of not providing “accessible machines” at polling places.
A week later, it was revealed that Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Thomas followed up with a letter from his office to Korsmeyer informing the county clerk that Cole County would be one of 64 jurisdictions to be monitored by the Biden administration’s DOJ.
The department announced Monday that it would be monitoring 64 jurisdictions in 24 states “for compliance with the federal voting rights laws.”
However, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft intervened to say DOJ poll monitors would not be allowed in Cole County on his watch.
Ashcroft made it explicitly clear that any DOJ action in his state would have to go through him first.
This email was sent by the DOJ to one of our election authorities. pic.twitter.com/eQ0eN3rBKd
— Missouri SOS Office (@MissouriSOS) November 6, 2022
“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,” Ashcroft wrote in a multi-part tweet.
“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,” he continued.
He added, “If the DOJ desires to meet to discuss this matter further, they may meet at my office instead of trying to bully a hard working county official.”
Ashcroft’s message to the DOJ echoed that of Korsmeyer, who had also stated that federal poll monitors from the DOJ would not be permitted at Cole County polling locations.
Citing state law, Korsmeyer told the Missouri Independent, “The DOJ won’t be allowed into our polling locations.”
While it’s true that the Justice Department has historically dispatched poll monitors to specific locations considered most likely to have issues at the polls, the DOJ increased the number of poll monitors dispatched for the 2022 midterms compared with the 2020 general election.
“The Civil Rights Division will also take complaints from the public nationwide regarding possible violations of the federal voting rights laws through its call center,” the department said in its announcement. “The Civil Rights Division enforces the federal voting rights laws that protect the rights of all citizens to access the ballot.”
The DOJ said its polling monitors will help enforce the “Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to ensure that persons with disabilities have a full and equal opportunity to vote,” which seems to be the reasoning provided to Cole County election officials.
“The division’s Criminal Section enforces federal criminal statutes that prohibit voter intimidation and voter suppression based on race, color, national origin or religion,” it said.
The news of Missouri’s pushback on the DOJ’s uninvited polling monitors comes amid a similar move by Florida.
“Department of Justice monitors are not permitted under Florida law,” said a letter sent by Brad McVay, the general counsel for the Florida Department of State, to John “Bert” Russ, deputy chief and elections coordinator in the voting section of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.
McVay and Florida’s election officials were also informed that the Justice Department planned to dispatch monitors to several Florida counties.
“Indeed, your letters do not detail the need for federal monitors in these counties. None of the counties are currently subject to any election-related federal consent decrees. None of the counties have been accused of violating the rights of language or racial minorities or of the elderly or disabled,” McVay’s response read.
At a time when many Americans feel especially uneasy about the possibility that the current administration has politically weaponized the DOJ, it’s understandable that there would be intense backlash over the idea of DOJ poll watchers setting up shop at various polling locations.
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