Auditor alleges top Missouri election official Jay Ashcroft broke law in withholding info

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Missouri Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick on Monday accused Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft of violating state law by refusing to turn over the cyber security reviews of the state’s local election authorities.

Fitzpatrick released a scathing audit report on Ashcroft’s office that was highly critical of his fellow Republican’s decision last year to leave a national system designed to improve the accuracy of voting rolls called the Electronic Information Registration Information Center, or ERIC.

Fitzpatrick’s audit, which raises questions about Ashcroft’s handling of the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office, gave the office a rating of “fair,” the second-lowest possible audit rating. The audit’s release comes as Ashcroft runs for governor.

A formal response from Ashcroft included in the audit report pushes back on its findings, arguing that sharing the actual cyber security reports with Fitzpatrick’s office risks revealing confidential information. The response also argued that ERIC refused to make reforms to its system and leaving the program was a “business decision.”

A spokesperson for Ashcroft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The audit alleges Ashcroft’s office refused to provide Fitzpatrick with copies of the cyber security reviews of Missouri’s 116 local election authorities in violation of a state law that requires the office to submit the reviews to the state Auditor’s Office. The Missouri General Assembly in 2022 passed a sweeping election-related law that, among other provisions, required the MIssouri Secretary of State’s Office and local election authorities to receive cybersecurity reviews every two years.

While Fitzpatrick’s office did not seek legal action against Ashcroft, his office determined that most of the reviews had been completed.

“The law clearly provides our audit staff with the authority to receive and review this information, and it’s disappointing the Secretary of State’s Office stood in the way of our efforts to perform a thorough analysis of how the new cyber security reviews have been implemented,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement.

Fitzpatrick’s audit also faults how Ashcroft left ERIC without a proper replacement, saying that it will impede local election authorities from being able to correct inaccurate voter records. In St. Louis County, for example, the audit found that the national system allowed election authorities to remove thousands of deceased voters from their voter rolls.

“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.

Ashcroft’s criticism of the system, and his decision to leave, came amid former President Donald Trump’s false claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

Ashcroft has alleged that the system had refused to require states to participate in multi-state efforts to address voter fraud and had focused on adding names to voter rolls by requiring solicitations to individuals who had already had the opportunity to register.

But Fitzpatrick, in his audit, found that Ashcroft did not fully evaluate the system’s benefits before terminating the state’s membership and did not consult with local election authorities about leaving the system.

After leaving the system, Fitzpatrick said, the process of maintaining accurate voting rolls has been less efficient and more tedious on county clerks.

The audit also found that Ashcroft’s office did not have adequate financial controls and procedures over accounts receivable, resulting in an account that was sent to the Missouri Office of Administration with “misstatements” for the fiscal year ending in 2022.

If the misstatement had not been identified, the audit found, one of the funds would have been overstated by nearly $10 million.