Justice Department to monitor polls in 28 states on Election Day

The Justice Department is deploying more than 500 poll monitors and observers to 28 states on Tuesday to watch for potential civil rights violations.

Liam James Doyle/The Minnesota Daily/AP
Stickers sit for voters upon dropping off their absentee ballot at the elections office inside the Plato Building in St. Paul, Minn, in September.

Come Election Day, more than 500 poll monitors and observers from the US Justice Department will be deployed to 28 states – five more states than the department monitored in the last presidential election – in an effort to reduce the risk of civil rights violations at the polling sites. 

The majority of those 28 states will receive Justice Department staff functioning as "monitors" without statutory authority to access polling sites. But full-access observers will be found in Alaska, California, Louisiana, and New York, according to Reuters. 

"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," Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement Monday. 

Concerns about voter fraud and poll monitoring have become a primary concern in the 2016 presidential election, spurred by Republican nominee Donald Trump's warnings of a rigged election. While the US already has poll observers built into its system to ensure that both parties are able to keep one another in check, many Trump supporters are now saying that's not enough. As Patrik Jonsson reported for The Christian Science Monitor last week: 

Many Americans ... feel like they need to see for themselves, too. Some 41 percent of Americans believe the election could be stolen, according to a new Politico/Morning Consult poll. That's despite the fact that multiple studies have shown that voter fraud in the US is all-but-nonexistent.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has grasped that thread of doubt to build a “nationwide election protection operation” largely of followers urged to attend polls “in certain areas” to look for “you know what,” as Mr. Trump recently said.

As a number of white nationalist groups prepare to stand by polling places to keep an eye out for wrongdoing, particularly in predominantly black areas, the Justice Department says it will send personnel to 67 jurisdictions to watch for potential civil rights violations, including discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or religion. 

While talk of voluntary poll observers has elicited concerns about voter intimidation, some experts say having extra eyes on the polling places isn't inherently a bad thing – as long as the observers don't try to influence voters one way or the other. 

"Observation at the polls should not cross the line into intimidation, that’s key," Ned Foley, a constitutional law professor at Ohio State University’s Moritz School of Law and author of "Ballot Battles: The History of Disputed Elections in the United States," told the Monitor. "But observation by both sides is a good thing."

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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