Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft fends off challenge from Yinka Faleti

Jay Ashcroft, the Republican incumbent, is running against Democratic challenger Yinka Faleti to be Missouri's next Secretary of State on Nov. 3, 2020. (Photo courtesy of the Missouri Secretary of State's Office)

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft sailed to victory Tuesday night over his Democratic challenger Yinka Faleti and will go on to serve as Missouri’s top election official for another four years.

Ashcroft, the Republican incumbent, was leading by about 640,960 votes with over 95 percent the state’s precincts reporting shortly after midnight, according to the Secretary of State’s unofficial returns. Faleti called to concede the race shortly after 10:30 p.m. 

Ashcroft was first elected as the state’s chief elections officer in 2016 and pushed for stricter voter identification laws during his tenure. In a statement Tuesday night, Ashcroft touted the initiatives his office has accomplished in his first term, in addition to the handling of the current election.

“Working with the 116 local election authorities, we have increased the accessibility, security and safety of voting in our great state,” Ashcroft said. “This year alone, we have had four safe and secure elections during the COVID-19 pandemic without incident or putting people at risk.”

Yinka Faleti, the Democratic nominee for Missouri Secretary of State, speaks from the Tiger Hotel in Columbia, Missouri, after conceding to Republican incumbent Jay Ashcroft on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (Photo by Tessa Weinberg/The Missouri Independent)

Despite his loss, Faleti, a veteran and former state prosecutor, expressed pride in how far his campaign had come in what had been a “journey of a lifetime.” If either he, or Alissia Canady, Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor, were successful, they would have become the first Black statewide elected official in Missouri’s history.

“While the results of this election did not go the way we wanted, I’m grateful for the support of so many that brought us this far” Faleti said Tuesday night from the Tiger Hotel in Columbia.

The Secretary of State is Missouri’s chief elections officer tasked with overseeing the voting process and certifying language that appears on the ballot, in addition to maintaining state records, like business registration.

Ashcroft’s ability to handle the duties of the office was on full display this year as he prepared for an election with historic turnout amid a pandemic that has upended typical voting procedures nationwide.

A Jefferson City native, Ashcroft, 47, is the son of former Missouri governor, attorney general and U.S. Attorney General and U.S. Sen. John Ashcroft. He has previously worked as an attorney in his father’s national law firm and engineering professor before he was first elected in 2016. 

During his time as Secretary of State, Ashcroft has supported voter ID laws that required photo identification and vowed to undo a Missouri Supreme Court ruling that had declared a previous version of the law unconstitutional.

Ashcroft also opposed efforts that would have waived the notarization requirement for voters seeking to vote absentee who feared contracting COVID-19. Ashcroft said such measures help ensure Missouri’s elections remain secure.

He credited legislation that increased the window of time a voter can return an absentee ballot and that allowed electronic and remote notarization as helpful actions that gave voters “more options on how they can vote.”

But it’s some of those same positions that Faleti had been critical of, calling for no-excuse absentee voting, automatic voter registration and expanded early voting opportunities.

Faleti, 44, immigrated to the U.S. from Lagos, Nigeria when he was seven years old, and he most recently held executive roles at nonprofits, including the United Way of Greater St. Louis and Forward Through Ferguson.

If successful, it would have been Faleti’s first time holding elected office. Faleti stressed that “voting is only the beginning” and called on Missourians to stay engaged and hold their elected officials accountable.

“The future is bright for Missouri if we make it so,” Faleti said.