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Federal election observers severely reduced despite rigging, fraud, intimidation concerns

Posted: 1:44 PM, Oct 24, 2016
Updated: 2016-10-24 18:27:17-04

A new Rasmussen poll released Monday says many voters fear fraud at the polls this year.

Despite that, the Justice Department will only have official election observers in four states, compared to 13 in 2012, according to the New York Times.

The reduction is because of a 2013 Supreme Court Ruling in the case of Shelby County v. Holder which critics say gutted some of the most crucial parts of the Voting Rights Act.

Donald Trump’s campaign has warned of a rigged election and has encouraged supporters to head to the polls to act as amateur poll watchers - which has civil rights watchdogs concerned about voter intimidation - especially among minorities.

Millions have already voted early, with 15 days left until official election day.

Last week U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch tried to reassure voters in a video that the Department of Justice was working to protect everyone’s right to vote, but acknowledged it has been severely restricted.
“The Supreme Court's decision in Shelby County limited one of our most important tools to fight laws and policies that make it harder for many Americans, especially low income citizens and citizens of color to cast their ballots,” Lynch said.

That 2013 decision made way for state to pass controversial voter ID laws, and make other changes to their voting process without federal approval.

The Justice Department has interpreted that ruling to mean it now can’t send election observers to states without prior federal court approval, meaning monitors will only be in certain counties in four states (New York, Louisiana, California and Alaska) compared to 13 states in 2012.

Kristen Clarke is the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law.

“Everyone in our country deserves the right to cast a ballot free from harassment and intimidation,” she said.”

Clarke says many of the states where observers used to operate have a history with voter intimidation or suppression among minorities.

“(Election observers’) mere presence helped block and deter mischief that might otherwise occur,” Clarke said.

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law has set up a hotline for voters to report any problems at 866-OUR-VOTE.

“We want people to speak up if and when they see problems,” Clarke said.

Voting monitors, which are different than observers, are still being dispatched to many states, but they do not have access to polling sites unless invited in by local authorities.