Florida opposes DOJ poll watchers
State election officials, led by Secretary of State Cord Byrd, said in their letter that Florida is sending “its” staff to monitor elections in three counties to “ensure that there is no interference with the voting process.”
Election officials say the move is not meant to be “confrontational” as they join Missouri in protesting the DOJ’s action.
“And the state of Missouri, the state of Florida, when they told us they wanted to come into our polling places, we wanted to make it clear that these are places for election workers and voters — not for anybody else,” Byrd told reporters Tuesday.
Earlier this week, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a Republican, posted email sent by Department of Justice officials to the District Clerk. There, an assistant US attorney said a pair of teams would visit polling places in Cole County and have several questions for election officials, promising to try to “minimize the amount of time we spend at each polling place.”
DOJ sends observers to polling places in Democratic strongholds of Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach, Florida as part of an expanded efforts in 64 jurisdictions across the country to ensure compliance with federal voting rights laws. Number of locations this year is a significant increase from the presidential election two years ago when the DOJ sent observers to 44 jurisdictions in 18 states.
Missouri’s Ashcroft said the local official “rightly denied” the DOJ’s visitation request, arguing it violated state law. The The Missouri Independent reported Monday that Cole County officials received an earlier letter stating that the Department of Justice had received complaints about the lack of available voting machines in past elections, which are required under federal law.
The Justice Department declined to comment on the letter Tuesday morning from Florida. But a spokesman said DOJ officials will be monitoring outside polling places in Florida. And a spokesman for the US Attorney’s office in Missouri said The Eagle, a local radio stationthat DOJ monitors will not enter the building.
Byrd said Tuesday that the DOJ “certainly” can monitor polls from the outside, as they have done in previous election cycles.
“They wanted to be at the polls, and they couldn’t give a reason to be there, or any legal authority to be there,” Byrd said. “That’s why we asked them to follow Florida law.”
“This must not be confrontational in any way.”
David Becker, a former attorney in the Justice Department’s civil rights division who now heads the Center for Election Innovation and Research, said he thinks states’ attempts to freeze federal monitors are unusual.
“I’ve probably personally watched dozens of elections, including primaries… and I’ve never had a problem with it,” he said at a press conference. “I think it’s a little unusual for states like Missouri and Florida to make a legal claim, which I think is a little dubious, that federal monitors or observers will not be allowed to go into polling places.”
Becker likened the roles of federal observers to highly trained “flies on the wall,” saying that if something raises concerns, they typically don’t get involved at the polls and go outside to talk to officials.
He expressed some concern about future resistance to Justice Department monitors. “I would hope that in the future, with strong communication between the states, the districts and the DOJ, this can be avoided,” he said.
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