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Feds tripling election monitors from 2000

More than 1,000 federal poll watchers will be sent to monitor elections in 25 states to assure compliance with voting laws and prevent discrimination or disenfranchisement, the Justice Department announced Thursday.
Floridians Go To The Polls For Early Voting
Among the locales that will be monitored by federal inspectors is Palm Beach County, Fla., where voters waited in lin early Thursday to cast their ballots in Delray Beach.Mario Tama / Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Justice Department is sending out three times as many poll watchers on Election Day as it did in 2000, assigning some to Florida and other closely contested states in the presidential election.

The 1,090 observers and monitors will be on duty in at least 86 locations in 25 states Tuesday. In 2000, 317 watched for violations of the anti-discrimination Voting Rights Act and other election problems in the presidential race.

That contest was not settled for 36 days after the vote, when the Supreme Court ruled that George W. Bush had won Florida over Democrat Al Gore.

Personnel from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division will be in eight Florida counties this year, including Broward, Palm Beach and Dade, at the center of the recount four years ago.

Federal monitors and observers also will go to Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Nevada. In those states, the race is tight between President Bush and Democrat John Kerry.

Legal challenges already have arisen in several states over possible voting problems, including difficulties with absentee ballots and the handling of ballots cast in the wrong precinct.

Thousands of volunteers from both political parties and affiliated groups are expected to monitor polling places to track turnout and how balloting procedures are performed.

Julie Fernandes, senior policy analyst and special counsel for the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said many of the federal officials are going to places where there have been recent or historical problems of voter intimidation or disenfranchisement of minorities and people who speak languages other than English.

“I am happy to see they are doing such a broad deployment,” Fernandes said. “The program is useful, in that it has a tremendous deterrent effect.”

The 1,090 federal poll watchers break down this way:

  • 840 are observers authorized by the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which ended racial barriers to voting. These observers are sent to states and counties that are covered by that law or are under a judge’s order as a result of the law. Areas include six counties in Mississippi, four in New Mexico and Cook County, which includes Chicago.
  • 250 are Justice Department Civil Rights Division personnel — not prosecutors — who have somewhat different powers from the observers. These monitors will go to the Florida counties and elsewhere.

Separately, senior prosecutors will be on duty in all 93 U.S. attorneys offices to handle any complaints about voting problems and to pursue any allegations of voting fraud or other elections abuses. The FBI will have agents on duty at headquarters in Washington and in each of its 56 field offices to handle such complaints as well.