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The Justice Department Is Monitoring Fewer Polling Places This Election — Here’s Why

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The number of people monitoring the polls today during the presidential election is a considerable drop from the election in 2012. The Civil Rights Division of the United States Justice Department will send out over 500 lawyers to polls in 67 voting areas in 28 states during the election today. This is compared to the more than 780 people they deployed to 23 states in the 2012 election.

The Justice Department has monitored elections since 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was first passed.

“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,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement on the subject last month.

This drastic reduction can almost certainly be attributed to the Supreme Court decision in Shelby v. Holder (2013), a decision that is otherwise known as having done a great dissection of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The 2013 decision meant that certain counties that might seek out poll monitoring under the Voting Rights Act — because of the history they have with Jim Crow laws, racism, and/or of voter discrimination at the polls — would no longer have it. During its announcement, the Justice Department gave no explanation for why or how it chose the areas that it has decided to monitor this year.

The polling place monitors will look for this specific evidence, according to the Justice Department:

  • Voters are subject to different voting qualifications or procedures on the basis of race, color or membership in a language minority group
  • Whether jurisdictions are complying with the minority language provisions of the Voting Rights Act
  • Whether jurisdictions permit voters to receive assistance by a person of his or her choice if the voter is blind, has a disability or is unable to read or write
  • Whether jurisdictions provide polling locations and voting systems allowing voters with disabilities to cast a private and independent ballot
  • Whether jurisdictions comply with the voter registration list requirements of the National Voter Registration Act
  • And whether jurisdictions comply with the provisional ballot requirements of the Help America Vote Act.

The Justice Department will also send people who speak a variety of Asian and Native American languages, as well as Spanish to the polls to assist voters.

Starting today, lawyers in the Civil Rights Division’s Voting Section will also man a hotline that will both receive and address any alleged voter discrimination going on at the polls. Lynch insists that all work by Justice Department employees will be done in a completely nonpartisan way.

“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,” Lynch said in a statement.

A list of the jurisdictions the Justice Department will be monitoring today can be found here.

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