The Justice Department will send monitors to 24 states in an effort to ensure compliance with federal voting rights laws in Tuesday’s elections.
The action, which occurs regularly on Election Day, comes as civil rights groups and the federal government have raised alarm over potential voter intimidation at some polling places and ballot boxes.
The 2022 election is playing out against the backdrop of persistent falsehoods made by former President Donald Trump and his Republican allies about losing the 2020 vote, a relentless campaign that will have implications as people cast their ballots.
Democrats, on the other hand, have expressed concerns over the potential for voter suppression.
The 64 jurisdictions where federal monitors — typically lawyers with the department’s civil rights division and U.S. attorney’s offices across the United States — are going include Maricopa County, Arizona, where there have been reports of people watching ballot boxes, sometimes armed or wearing ballistic vests. The Justice Department also announced it would be sending monitors to Cole County, Missouri, where local elections officials have said they would block the monitors.
The attorneys will be in regular touch with election officials in the locations and will watch for signs of disruption to voters’ ability to cast ballots. There is also a call-in line should voters feel they are suffering discrimination at a polling place.
The monitors are being sent to “protect the rights of voters,” as they have for decades, the Justice Department said Monday.
A look at the monitors:
Who are the election monitors?
The monitors are lawyers who work for the U.S. government. They are not law enforcement officers or federal agents. They generally include lawyers from the Justice Department’s civil rights division and U.S. attorney’s offices across the nation. The government also sometimes brings in employees from other agencies, such as the Office of Personnel Management, who are authorized to act as monitors under a federal court order.
Why are they being sent to watch election sites?
The Justice Department has sent attorneys to monitor election sites and compliance with federal voting laws for more than five decades. The department’s civil rights lawyers are responsible for enforcing civil action tied to the voting statutes and protecting the right to vote.
The laws they enforce include the Voting Rights Act, along with the National Voter Registration Act and other statutes. Prosecutors in the same division also enforce criminal statutes that prohibit voter intimidation and efforts to suppress voting based on someone’s race, national origin or religion.
Some of the locations where they have been sent include areas where there were concerns in 2020, as well as locations where issues have already been raised this year.
What has been happening in Maricopa County?
The Justice Department has warned about the potential for violations of the Voting Rights Act after people, sometimes armed or wearing ballistic vests, were monitoring ballot boxes in Maricopa County. There was a lawsuit over the activity and the department filed a statement of interest in the case. Federal officials have said that while lawful poll watching can support transparency, “ballot security forces” present a significant risk of voter intimidation.
What is the controversy in Cole County?
Republican election officials in Cole County have pushed back against the Justice Department’s efforts to review voting access in Missouri. Missouri’s secretary of state, Jay Ashcroft, says county clerk Steve Korsmeyer had declined the Justice Department’s efforts to monitor the polls, and Korsmeyer says he won’t let them in if they show up.
Ashcroft accused the department of “trying to bully a hard working county official.”
In a Thursday email shared by Ashcroft, an assistant U.S. attorney told Korsmeyer that four Department of Justice staffers planned to visit polling sites on Election Day and briefly question poll officials as part of a review in coordination with the civil rights division.
“Rest assured that we understand that you will be administering the election and we will try to minimize the time we spend at each site,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Thomas wrote.
Reiterating his stance on Monday, Korsmeyer told The Associated Press, “The DOJ won’t be allowed into our polling locations,” citing a state statue that gives him some leeway in deciding who, other than election workers, is allowed to enter polling places. But he said Justice Department officials he spoke with were “very respectful and said they wouldn’t enter our polling locations on Election Day.”
“We don’t expect any issues,” he said in an email to the AP.
The department confirmed that its monitors would remain outside.
Where are the monitors being sent?
The Justice Department plans to send the monitors to 64 jurisdictions in 24 different states.
They include: Prince George’s County in Maryland; the city of Bethel, Dillingham Census Area, Kusilvak Census Area and Sitka City-Borough in Alaska; Maricopa County, Navajo County, Pima County, Pinal County and Yavapai County in Arizona; Newton County in Arkansas; Los Angeles County and Sonoma County in California; Broward County, Miami-Dade County and Palm Beach County in Florida; Cobb County, Fulton County, Gwinnett County in Georgia; the town of Clinton, and the cities of Fitchburg, Leominster, Everett, Malden, Methuen, Randolph and Salem in Massachusetts; Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, Pontiac and Southfield in Michigan; Minneapolis, Hennepin and Ramsey counties in Minnesota; Cole County in Missouri; Alamance County, Columbus County, Harnett County, Mecklenburg County and Wayne County in North Carolina; Middlesex County in New Jersey Bernalillo County and San Juan County in New Mexico; Clark County and Washoe County in Nevada; the borough of Queens in New York City; Cuyahoga County in Ohio; Berks County, Centre County, Lehigh County, Luzerne County, Philadelphia County in Pennsylvania; the city of Pawtucket, Rhode Island; Horry County in South Carolina; Dallas County, Harris County and Waller County, Texas; San Juan County, Utah; Prince William County and the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park in Virginia; and Milwaukee and Racine, Wisconsin.
Michael Balsamo reports for The Associated Press.
Associated Press writer Summer Ballentine in Jefferson City, Missouri, contributed to this report.