Yinka Faleti picture

Yinka Faleti, a Democratic challenger for Missouri secretary of state, spoke with News-Press NOW on Monday.

Shortly after a campaign stop in St. Joseph, a Democratic secretary of state challenger is condemning what he calls a closed-door meeting between the staff of current Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and a toxic election lawyer.

According to reporting by ProPublica, Ashcroft’s chief of staff, Trish Vincent, met with Hans von Spakovsky, an election lawyer whose 2006 appointment to the Federal Election Commission ultimately failed the Senate confirmation process. No Democrats were apparently invited to the virtual meetings.

“I think all Missourians should be alarmed that Ashcroft would have a high-ranking member of his office meet in a closed-door meeting with a Republican operative,” Yinka Faleti, a Democratic challenger for secretary of state, said. “(von Spakovsky) was so toxic he wouldn’t be confirmed in 2006, so my first reaction is shock and dismay.”

Von Spakovsky currently serves as an elections manager for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. He did serve on the FEC from 2006 to 2008 through a recess appointment, a procedural move that allows nominations when the Senate is not in session.

During the confirmation process, career officials who worked with von Spakosvky in the U.S. Justice Department wrote a letter to a Senate committee voicing their opposition to his appointment over von Spakosvky’s views on voting.

According to essays published on the Heritage Foundation’s website, von Spakosvky believes absentee ballots make fraud easier and that absentee ballots are the tool of choice for vote thieves, an idea debunked by the non-partisan Brennen Center for Justice.

Both Faleti and Ashcroft have made appearances in St. Joseph this year. Ashcroft attended an event at Rosecrans Memorial Airport in July in which he touted in-person voting.

When asked by News-Press NOW if there has been a significant amount of voter fraud in Missouri, Ashcroft said he had seen some irregularities but declined to label the problem as widespread.

Faleti appeared alongside striking Silgan Containers workers in September and spoke at a Democratic rally outside St. Joseph City Hall two weeks later.

While Ashcroft told News-Press NOW that in-person voting will be safe, Faleti said Ashcroft hasn’t done enough to expand various forms of mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t know how Ashcroft intends to end COVID-19 before Nov. 3,” Faleti said. “If he cannot do that, there must be ways for Missourians to vote safely.”

During his July visit, Ashcroft said voters can vote absentee without an excuse if they are at-risk for COVID-19. Missourians can also vote absentee with an excuse or they can use mail-in voting, which is legally different from absentee.

Faleti seized on the various options, calling them “convoluted, cumbersome, complicated and confusing.”

An aide for Ashcroft did not respond to a request for comment from News-Press NOW.

Matt Hoffmann can be reached at matt.hoffmann@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NpNowHoffmann.