The Department of Justice will send over 500 election monitors to 28 states to help ensure federal voting rights are enforced in 67 jurisdictions. Compared to 2012, there are fewer monitors to go around, and more states and jurisdictions are being covered. During the last presidential election, the Justice Department sent 780 monitors to 51 jurisdictions and 23 states.
The sharp decrease follows the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby v. Holder, which struck down a pivotal section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Section 4(b) had allowed the Justice Department to monitor jurisdictions that had a history of discrimination. However, the 2013 ruling significantly limited the Department’s power.
The Department declined to share how many people will be monitors and how many will be observers. Observers are typically stationed inside polling sites and have more power than monitors. Observers also had the power to have poll officials removed if they were engaging in discrimination against voters.
With such strict provisions in place this year, many people are worried that the Justice Department’s efforts will not be enough.
“Really, none of these efforts are an adequate substitute for the protections that had long been provided by the federal observer program,” Kristen Clarke, president of the nonpartisan Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said last month.
In a statement announcing the number of polling monitors Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said, “The bedrock of our democracy is the right to vote, and the Department of Justice works tirelessly to uphold that right not only on Election Day, but every day.”
“As always, our 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,” Lynch said. “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.”
Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general and head of the Civil Rights Division for the Department of Justice, said that despite having fewer monitors they will still largely be able to engage in the same activities they did prior to the ruling.
“In most cases, voters on the ground will see very little practical difference between monitors and observers,” she said. “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.”
Civil Rights Division staffers can be reached via a Justice Department hotline all day on Election Day, toll free, at 1-800-253-3931 or 202-307-2767 (or TTY 202-305-0082). Voters may also send complaints via fax at 202-307-3961, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by using the Department’s online complaint form at https://www.justice.gov/crt/complaint/votintake/index.php.
Justice Department Monitors vs. Trump ‘Election Observers’
As the Justice Department gears up to monitor approved areas for discrimination or any violation of voting rights, supporters of Republican nominee Trump have stated they will do some poll watching of their own. Trump has repeatedly called the election “rigged” and has called on his supporters to be “Trump Election Observers.”
At numerous rallies Trump has told his supporters to watch “certain areas” on Election Day to ensure voter fraud does not take place.
“I hear too many bad stories, and we can’t lose an election because of you know what I’m talking about,” he said in October.
Voter fraud has been concluded to largely be a myth that enables voter suppression. The Brennan Center for Justice published “Debunking the Voter Fraud Myth” in September. According to the analysis, incidents of voter fraud are most often the result of “clerical errors or bad data matching practices” and in fact only occur at rates between 0.00004 and 0.00009 percent.
“As historians and election experts have catalogued, there is a long history in this country of racially suppressive voting measures — including poll taxes and all-white primaries — put in place under the guise of stopping voter fraud that wasn’t actually occurring in the first place,” the text states. “The surest way toward voting that is truly free, fair, and accessible is to know the facts in the face of such rhetoric.”
Despite the lack of evidence to support his paranoia, however, Trump’s suggestion has turned into a concerted effort. Trump has a page on his website for people to be a “Trump Election Observer” that says, “Help Me Stop Crooked Hillary From Rigging This Election!”
According to campaign observers, the “certain areas” Trump has asked his supporters to watch are primarily areas with large support for Democrats — and with large populations of Black and Latino voters.
Democrats have tried to fight back, engaging in a legal battle to restrict the power Trump and his supporters could have at the polls. They reached a setback on Monday in Ohio, North Carolina and Pennsylvania when the Supreme Court rejected rules set forth regarding partisan poll watchers.
Democrats have also been fighting a legal battle against the Republican National Committee but hit a wall in New Jersey this weekend. On Saturday a U.S. judge denied the motion that the RNC should be prevented from supporting the “poll watching” efforts set forth by their party’s front man and his supporters.