Officials in Florida sought to block federal election monitors from entering polling places in a handful of counties, arguing Justice Department personnel do not have the authority to be present in polling places under state law.
In a letter to a Justice Department official on Monday, Brad McVay, general counsel at the Florida Department of State, pushed back against the prospect of federal monitors entering polling sites on Election Day.
The letter came in response to an announcement from the department that it was sending monitors to polling locations in 64 jurisdictions across 24 states, including Florida’s Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. The department said the move, which is routine on election days, was meant to ensure compliance with federal voting rights laws and “protect the rights of all citizens to access the ballot.”
Backed by Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd, the Florida letter said Justice Department poll watchers are not allowed to enter Florida polling sites for in-person monitoring, citing a state statute that lists who is and is not authorized to “enter any polling room or polling place.” Personnel with the Justice Department are not included on the list, the letter said, and the department has not provided evidence that would warrant “federal intrusion.”
The letter also suggested that permitting federal law enforcement to enter polling places “would be counterproductive and could potentially undermine confidence in the election” and said Florida plans to send its own monitors to Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach polling sites instead.
“We wanted to make it clear that those are places for election workers and for voters, not for anyone else,” Byrd said during a news conference on Tuesday. “It is the states that have the constitutional authority over the polling places, unless Congress makes the law … We expect that [the Department of Justice will] respect Florida law.”
The move comes after Missouri officials also told the Justice Department that monitors would not be permitted inside certain polling places.
Missouri’s Cole County, encompassing the state capital Jefferson City, appeared on the Justice Department’s list of jurisdictions to monitor, and officials there have taken similar steps to keep federal watchers away from polling locations. Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said over the weekend that he supports County Clerk Steve Korsmeyer’s efforts to keep the monitors out.
“Under Missouri law, the local election authority is empowered to decide who, other than voters and poll workers, may be at polling locations,” Ashcroft wrote on Twitter. “Cole County Clerk Steve Korsmeyer has rightfully declined to allow this over-reach and the secretary of state’s office fully supports him.”