Justice Department to monitor polls in 28 states
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department said Monday that it would deploy more than 500 people in 28 states on Tuesday to monitor Election Day practices and guard against intimidation and disruptions.
The number is a sharp decrease from the 2012 presidential election, when the Justice Department had more than 780 personnel in place on Election Day at the close of what was a much less tumultuous campaign.
Officials placed blame for the shrinking federal presence on a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that limited their ability under the Voting Rights Act to deploy observers in jurisdictions — mainly in the South — with a history of voting discrimination.
In announcing the assignment of monitors and observers, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said, “We will continue to have a robust election monitors program in place on Election Day.” She said the personnel “will perform these duties impartially, with one goal in mind: to see to it that every eligible voter can participate in our elections to the full extent that federal law provides.”
The Justice Department said it would have personnel in 67 jurisdictions to look for signs that anyone is being hindered from voting because of race, ethnicity, language, disability or other criteria.
The department’s Civil Rights Division will also have a hotline to field complaints of discrimination or voting problems (1-800-253-3931 or 202-307-2767, or TTY 202-305-0082).
The Justice Department is deploying both Election Day observers — inside the polling places — and monitors, who remain outside the polling places unless local voting officials agree to allow them inside. The Justice Department did not give a breakdown between the two groups of the more than 500 personnel it is deploying.
Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division, said that “we work closely and cooperatively with jurisdictions around the country to ensure that trained personnel are able to keep an eye on the proceedings from an immediate vantage point.”
Donald Trump has repeatedly warned of what he said could be a “rigged” election, charging that unauthorized immigrants and others who are not eligible to vote could turn out in large numbers; he has urged supporters to monitor polls on their own.
For their part, Democrats say the divisive climate could intimidate legitimate voters, and that evidence of actual voter fraud is minimal.
In a letter last week to Lynch, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said he was troubled by reports that a white nationalist group planned to monitor polls in Philadelphia with surveillance cameras and other tactics. He said these plans “are little more than thinly veiled attempts to suppress and delegitimize the votes of predominantly minority citizens.”