Gov. Mike Parson urged Missouri county clerks to "do what's right" during their training Thursday in Jefferson City.
"A lot of changing things today with voter registration and all the things that go through that, but I tell you, just do what's right at the end of the day, and you'll be fine," the Republican governor said. "Use a little common sense. Do what's right. Do what you're supposed to do, don't try to do nothing you're not, and you're going to be just fine at the local level."
Parson spoke to a group of nearly 50 county clerks as they attended an annual training program in the Capital City. The governor appointed four of the clerks in the room, including the county clerk of his hometown.
About a third of Missouri's county clerks, 34 in total, are new to the post this year. The elected officials are responsible for running elections throughout the state and may have several other duties, such as keeping payroll, depending on the size of the county they represent.
The number of voters and elected officials questioning election results has been growing over the past couple years.
Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, voted against certifying 2020 election results after an angry mob of insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to interrupt the proceedings, as did Missouri Republican U.S. Reps. Sam Graves, Vicky Hartzler, Billy Long, Blaine Luetkemeyer and Jason Smith.
The state's newest senator, Republican Eric Schmitt, also denies the 2020 election results were accurate. And its two newest Republican U.S. Reps., Mark Alford and Eric Burlison, have raised questions.
Kara Clark Summers, president of the Missouri Association of County Clerks and Election Authorities and clerk for Cape Girardeau County, told the News Tribune in November that intensified scrutiny on election integrity likely contributed to the decision of some clerks to leave the job.
The new crop of clerks that received training Thursday are taking their place.
As he was speaking, Parson asked how many in the training had ever held a public office. No one raised their hand.
Parson said he doesn't have any concerns about the size of the new class of local election administrators because it's common for county-level officeholders to come and go.
The class of 34 new clerks is more than normal, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft told the News Tribune in November. But, like the governor, Ashcroft isn't concerned.
Parson said county clerks have conducted Missouri's elections well "even during some of the most controversial years where they're having trouble all over the United States."
"Our state's in pretty good shape," he said. "When it comes to election law and everything, we've got good training resources and everything. The secretary of state does a good job. And these local elected officials you see time and time again get it right. We don't have very many problems on the local levels, especially when you're looking at the clerks' side of that.
"We're very fortunate in this state to be able to handle our elections the way we have, and I think we've proven that year in and year out," the governor continued.
Having results the night of election day is testament to how well elections are run, Parson said.
He suggested county clerks who build trust with their voters can cut through partisanship concerns.
One clerk asked the governor for guidance on dealing with disparaging social media comments.
Parson said clerks can't let social media dictate their decisions and suggested they limit their social media presence to an account for the office they hold.
"You've got to realize what 'trolls' are ..." he said. "A lot of them in the political arena are politically motivated for one side or the other."
The governor said he firmly believes political leadership comes from the local level and that his campaign for Polk County sheriff was the most important race he ran.
"When you get elected at home, it's the people you go to church with. It's the people your kids grew up with. It's the people you see at the grocery store," he said. "It's about your family and your friends, and it's about a lifetime of things you've done for people to trust you to be in the position you are because they know you."
Parson told the clerks he doesn't want them to forget the feeling of voters entrusting them to do the job, but also to maintain a level head.
"It's one of the highest honors I've ever had, to be an elected official," he said. "Even in the world of today, how people feel about politics."