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Jan. 23, 2024Jefferson City, Mo. |  By: AP

The Missouri secretary of state pushes back at a state audit claiming a violation of state law


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft on Tuesday defended himself against the state auditor’s claim that Ashcroft violated state law in failing to turn over cybersecurity reviews of Missouri’s 116 local election authorities.

Ashcroft, at a news conference, refuted what he called “false accusations” made by Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick’s audit of his office, which were released Monday.

“These are political opinions under the guise of an audit report that are being put forth by an agency that doesn’t even understand the issues,” said Ashcroft, a Republican who is running for governor.

The audit from Fitzpatrick, a Republican who is not a candidate for another statewide office, gave a “fair” rating to the secretary of state’s office — the second-lowest possible rating. It was critical of Ashcroft’s decision last year to stop using a national system designed to improve accuracy in voting.

Missouri lawmakers in 2022 passed a sweeping election law. It included a requirement that the secretary of state’s office and local election authorities undergo a cybersecurity review every two years. The audit said Ashcroft’s office failed to share details of those reviews. It did not call for legal action against Ashcroft.

Ashcroft said the reviews included confidential information that his office was not allowed to release. Besides, he said, the new law wasn’t in effect during the period covered by the audit.

The Electronic Registration Information Center, known as ERIC, has a record of combating voter fraud by identifying those who have died or moved between states. Yet it also has drawn suspicion among some Republican state leaders after a series of online stories surfaced questioning the center’s funding and purpose.

Former President Donald Trump had urged state election officials to move away from ERIC, claiming on social media that it “pumps the rolls” for Democrats. Ashcroft opted to leave the ERIC system last year.

“I can respect why Secretary Ashcroft felt it was necessary to end the relationship with ERIC, but that doesn’t negate the responsibility to have a plan to replace that data so the office has a reliable way to ensure we don’t have dead voters registered in Missouri as we enter a major election year,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement announcing the audit.

Ashcroft said he spent a year trying to help reform the ERIC system before opting out. Even without being part of ERIC, Ashcroft said Missouri has a strong reputation for honest elections under his watch.

“Other states are looking at what Missouri has done and following our lead,” he said.