Justice Department Sends Election Monitors to 28 States to Help Enforce Voting Rights Laws

Polling station supplies on display at a Board of Elections Elections voting machine facility warehouse, November 3, 2016 in the Bronx borough in New York City. (Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Polling station supplies on display at a Board of Elections Elections voting machine facility warehouse, November 3, 2016 in the Bronx borough in New York City. (Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

More than 500 Justice Department election monitors will be on the ground in 28 states on Election Day to help enforce of federal voting rights laws.

The department’s civil rights division said Monday it’s sending the poll monitors to 67 jurisdictions around the country.

But Tuesday’s election is the first presidential election in more than 50 years without federal power to mandate observers inside polling stations.

That’s a result of the 2013 Supreme Court ruling, known as the Shelby decision, which struck down key parts of the Voting Rights Act. The federal government lost its mandate to place observers inside polling stations.

The monitors being deployed this year can’t enter polling places without the authorization from local election officials.

Vanita Gupta, the acting assistant attorney general for civil rights, says the monitors will be able to accomplish most of what was done by observers before the Supreme Court ruling.

“In most cases, voters on the ground will see very little practical difference between monitors and observers,” Gupta said. “We work closely and cooperatively with jurisdictions around the country to ensure that trained personnel are able to keep an eye on the proceedings from an immediate vantage point.”

Staffers from the Justice civil rights division will handle voting rights complaints by phone. Complaints about violence or intimidation are handled by local authorities, but complaints should also be called in to federal authorities after local officials are contacted. US attorneys offices and the FBI also are involved in helping to enforce federal voting laws.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch described the right to vote as a “bedrock of our democracy,” a right her department works “tirelessly to uphold.”

“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,” Lynch said in a statement. “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.”