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Far Fewer Federal Observers Will Keep an Eye on the Polls

  • Jeff Swicord

Recent comments by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump about electoral fraud — “It’s a rigged election” — have alarmed many in the U.S. and abroad.

Free and fair elections have been the cornerstone of American democracy and a standard for many around the world. While experts agree there is no statistically significant electoral fraud in the U.S., they caution this is an unusual electoral year for many reasons, and problems could arise.

Trump’s all-out assault on the electoral process brought condemnation from Republicans and Democrats alike, including the president of the United States.

“Every expert regardless of political party, regardless of ideology — conservative or liberal — who has ever examined these issues in a serious way will tell you that instances of significant voter fraud are not to be found,” the president said.

Some election concerns

Voting rights experts agree the electoral process is not rigged, but they do have some concerns.

This will be the first election without some of the protective provisions of the 1964 Voting Rights Act, which were struck down in a U.S. Supreme Court case three years ago, specifically, the Federal Election Observer program.

“This is now the first presidential election cycle in more than 50-plus years where the Justice Department will not have around the country federal observers, who are trained individuals monitoring elections in some of the most vulnerable parts of the country,” said Kristen Clarke of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonprofit organization formed in 1963 to target inequities confronting minorities.

Voters cast their ballots at the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters, Oct. 24, 2016, in San Jose, California. Voting rights advocates say they will monitor more polling places than usual on Election Day amid concerns about possible voter intimidation.

Voters cast their ballots at the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters, Oct. 24, 2016, in San Jose, California. Voting rights advocates say they will monitor more polling places than usual on Election Day amid concerns about possible voter intimidation.

The Justice Department sent out more than 780 observers in 23 states for the 2012 election. This year, there will be observers in a few jurisdictions in Alaska, California, Louisiana and New York where they have been authorized by court order.

Fourteen states will be enacting new restrictive voter laws, some requiring specific types of voter identification.

Voter hotline

With no federal observers to ensure laws are implemented correctly, civil rights organizations are setting up phone banks for voters to call. The nonpartisan Election Protection coalition provides a national hotline to assist voters in every state with questions or concerns about their rights and the upcoming election.

“Right now,” Clarke said, “we are monitoring for things like purging of voter registration rolls, eleventh-hour efforts to change polling locations without giving voters adequate notice of these problems, efforts to target and challenge voters’ eligibility to cast a ballot on Election Day.”

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