Fewer U.S. Vote Monitors to Be More Spread Out on Election Day

Clinton, Trump Prep Final Presidential Campaign Push
  • Justice Department says 500 personnel will be deployed
  • Lynch cites commitment to ‘fair and unbiased’ voting rules

The Justice Department will deploy 500 personnel to polling stations on Election Day to help protect voters against discrimination and intimidation, down from 2012 as the result of a Supreme Court ruling that gutted part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The monitors, down from about 780 who were sent out in 2012, will be more spread out than four years ago, the department said in a statement Monday. Monitors will be sent to 67 jurisdictions in 28 states this year, compared with 51 jurisdictions in 23 states in 2012.

The department’s goal is “to see to it that every eligible voter can participate in our elections to the full extent that federal law provides,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement. “The department is deeply committed to the fair and unbiased application of our voting rights laws and we will work tirelessly to ensure that every eligible person that wants to do so is able to cast a ballot.”

The reduction comes as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has been trying to rally his base with claims that the election will be rigged. He has called on his supporters to go to the polls and watch voters. It also occurs amid concerns that hackers could create chaos as voters head to the polls.

For a QuickTake on U.S. voter rights fights, click here

The Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder eliminated a part of the Voting Rights Act that required states to get approval from the Justice Department before changing election laws. The department interpreted the ruling as limiting a process it has used to justify sending specialized observers inside polling places.

Like previous years, the department will deploy both election observers and monitors.

In the world of U.S. election enforcement, observers differ from monitors because they are specially designated officials with the legal authority to enter polling places. Monitors don’t have the same authority. They generally watch for intimidation or voting irregularities from outside, such as lobbying by supporters of a party or candidate too close to the voting site.

Without the full authority of the Voting Rights Act, the department can send observers inside polling places only where there is an existing court order to do so. For general elections, that applies to certain areas in only four states: Alaska, California, New York and Louisiana. Additionally, a court order permits observers for municipal elections in one jurisdiction in Alabama.

By comparison, the department was able to send observers to 13 states in 2012. However, the department expects state and local election officials to allow specially trained monitors into polling places to compensate.

This year, personnel from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division will be in Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.

"We enforce federal statutes related to voting through a range of activities -- including filing our own litigation when the facts warrant, submitting statements of interest in private lawsuits to help explain our understanding of these laws, and providing guidance to election officials and the general public about what these laws mean and what they require," Lynch said.

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