The Department of Justice (DOJ) made the decision to severely limit the number of election observers to a handful of states, according to a New York Times report Monday.
“I was a little surprised by the Justice Department’s decision, to be honest,” Derek T. Muller, law professor at Pepperdine University, told the New York Times. Since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 created the program, the DOJ collectively sent 32,000 electoral observers to selected communities.
A three-year-old Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County V. Holder held that certain portions of the Voting Rights Act governing federal oversight of local elections are unconstitutional; the provisions in question pertained to federal observers with respect to Shelby County in Alabama.
The Justice Department decided to only send observers into districts where explicit authority exists, which includes seven counties in Alaska, California, Louisiana and New York.
“We do not want to be in the position that we are in,” civil rights official at the Justice Department Vanity Gupta said. “There’s no doubt that we’re going to be spread thinner, but our hope and our intention is that we are going to have a very robust monitoring program.”
Muller asserts the the Justice Department could legally send observers to states that haven’t sued the government. “Until a court tells them otherwise, that provision is still on the books.”
Accusations of voter fraud and intimidation come from both sides, with Republican nominee Donald Trump leading the charge on the campaign trail. Despite attempts of Democratic Party talking heads to claim that such ideas harm the idea of small “d” democracy, Democrats are worried about voter fraud too.
“These things can have a very negative effect on registered voters – by challenging them and their right to vote,” Hispanic voting rights activist Nina Perales told the Times. “We’ve definitely been there before when it comes to harassing Latino voters and accusing them of committing fraud.”
The Justice Department pivoted to their “election monitor” program, where thousands of monitors are allowed to stand outside of local polling places, but aren’t allowed inside unless granted permission by local authorities. The DOJ anticipates sending hundreds of monitors to 25 different states.
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