Florida officials warned the US Justice Department that federal election monitors are not allowed inside polling places under state law, pushing back against federal plans for monitors in the state.
In a letter to DOJ dated Monday, Florida state elections officials argued that federal officials are not included on the list of people allowed inside polling places, and even if they did qualify, it “would be counterproductive and could potentially undermine confidence in the election.”
The Justice Department announced plans to send elections monitors to 24 states, including three counties in Florida – Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach. The practice of sending federal election monitors to local jurisdictions dates back decades.
But the department did “not detail the need for federal monitors in these counties,” Florida Department of State General Counsel Brad McVay wrote to DOJ in the letter.
The Florida Department of State will send its own monitors to the three jurisdictions, according to the letter, to “ensure that there is no interference with the voting process.”
Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd, an appointee of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is running for reelection, told reporters Tuesday morning that the request by DOJ to go inside polling places was a deviation from years past when the agency sent monitors to Florida. The DOJ under former President Donald Trump sent monitors to six Florida counties in 2020, but Byrd said they kept tabs from outside the polling location.
“This is not to be confrontational in any way,” Byrd said. “They sent a letter to the counties asking for permission to be in the polling places. We told them that under state law, that is not permitted, and we asked them to respect state law, and that they can go there and do their job, but they have to do that job outside of the polling place.”
Asked why the state didn’t send a similar letter in 2020 when Trump’s DOJ monitored six Florida counties, Byrd said there was no change in policy.
“The difference this time was that the DOJ wanted to, in their initial letter, they wanted to have monitors inside the polling places,” Byrd said, adding that “they can certainly be outside of the polling place.”
The Justice Department told CNN it has received the letter but declined to comment.
Nationwide, federal monitors include personnel from the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division and from its US Attorneys’ Offices, who will deploy across the country and field nationwide complaints
The practice of putting federal observers in place at polling places traces back to the 1965 passage of the Voting Rights Act, but how the department carries that monitoring out was impeded by the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that gutted parts of the law.
In Florida, each county runs its own election office. All three counties that DOJ picked to monitor are run by an elected Democratic official.
Broward County Supervisor Joe Scott said he did not have an issue with DOJ monitoring polling locations, and he was surprised by the state’s objection when he saw it Tuesday morning. But Scott said after discussing it with DOJ election monitors, they agreed to stay outside the polling locations in that county.
“We try to work well with the Secretary of State’s office,” Scott said. “The DOJ people were understanding as well. We’re not trying to pick a fight.”
In a statement, the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections told CNN, “The U.S. Department of Justice has no intention of entering polling places in Miami-Dade County.”
Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections office spokeswoman Alison Novoa told CNN the county will be following the guidance provided by the Department of State Division of Elections.
“The DOJ has indicated to us that they will coordinate with the Department of State and will not attempt to enter the locations,” she said.
Missouri has also pushed back on DOJ plans to monitor the election in the state.
In response to a DOJ letter, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft tweeted on Sunday that “it would be highly inappropriate for federal agents to violate the law by intimidating Missouri voters at the polls on Election Day.”
Under Missouri law, the local election authority is empowered to decide who may be at polling locations, according to the Secretary of State
“Cole County Clerk Steve Korsmeyer has rightfully declined to allow this over-reach and the secretary of state’s office fully supports him,” wrote Ashcroft.