Florida Blocks Federal Monitors From Entering Polling Places

The secretary, Cord Byrd, joined Republican officials in Missouri in rejecting a Justice Department request to safeguard federal voting laws.

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Florida Blocks Federal Monitors From Entering Polling Places | INFBusiness.com

Residents line up to vote in downtown St. Petersburg, Fla.

MIAMI — Florida’s Republican secretary of state has rejected a request from the Justice Department to place federal monitors inside polling sites in three of the state’s most populous counties, a move federal officials say could erode protections for minority and disabled voters.

On Monday, the Republican secretary of state in Missouri blocked a similar request to deploy monitors inside sites in Cole County, which includes the state capital, Jefferson City, over concerns some locations did not provide adequate access under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Justice Department is monitoring polling sites at 64 localities in 24 states to guard against violations of federal voting rights laws on Election Day. That is an increase of six states over the 2020 election, when the department dispatched monitors to polling stations in 44 cities and counties with documented histories of violations.

No federal monitors were stationed inside polling stations in 2020: The department, then run by Trump administration appointees, decided that the risk posed by the Covid-19 pandemic endangered voters and lawyers. Instead, they positioned monitors outside.

On Tuesday, Cord Byrd, the Florida secretary of state, told reporters the state had decided not to renew “consent” agreements that would have allowed the monitors to be inside polling sites in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, even though they had been allowed at those sites before the pandemic.

They were welcome to monitor conditions from outside as they did in 2020, he said.

“We wanted to make it clear that those are places for election workers and for voters,” Mr. Byrd said at a news conference. He added that he was seeking to bring the practice into compliance with state law, which prohibits most outsiders from being inside polling sites.

Mr. Byrd insisted that allowing federal monitors to be outside polling stations but not inside was not a change in policy. Neither, he said, was it motivated by politics. “This is not to be confrontational in any way,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the civil rights division of the Justice Department, which oversees the deployment of attorneys at polling sites, declined to comment.

Department officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said that monitors pose no threat to voters, and that their placement typically has not been a matter of controversy.

Local officials have in many cases accepted federal oversight as a stabilizing factor, after the chaotic 2000 elections exposed serious flaws in the state’s election system.

The department had been able to mandate the placement of observers in states with chronic voting rights violations before the Supreme Court blocked that practice in 2013.

In Missouri, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a Republican and the son of former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, said in an interview that the department only informed Cole County officials of its intention to monitor balloting inside poll locations last Thursday.

“They sandbagged us,” he said. “They intentionally didn’t give us time to think about it or to react.”

Source: nytimes.com

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