On August 27, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) announced that it would be monitoring the August 28 elections in both Arizona and Alabama in order to ensure compliance with voting laws.
According to a press statement released by the Department of Justice, federal observers were to be dispersed to polling stations in Lanett, Reform, Phoenix City and Maricopa County to monitor and record the voting activities taking place. Civil Rights Division attorneys would then coordinate the federal activities, and maintain contact with local election officials. (1)
The DoJ press statement went on to say that each year, hundreds of federal observers from the US Office of Personnel Management (OMP) are allocated at polling stations throughout the country to monitor voting activities. Each year, complaints are filed about incidents of intimidation or harassment and other discriminatory voting practises. (1)
The Voting Rights Act
In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was introduced in the US. The legislation is aimed at overcoming legal barriers at state and local levels that prevented African Americans from “exercising their right to vote under the Fifteenth Amendment”. (2)
The Fifth Amendment was approved in 1870, shortly after the American Civil War, which assured that one’s right to vote would not be denied on “account of race, colour, or previous condition of servitude.” (1)
It is incredible that more than 140 years after an act to outlaw discriminatory voting practises was introduced, measures need to be enforced to ensure polling place activities conform to unbiased voting practices.
Given that reports about racism in one form or another in the states of Arizona and Alabama seem to periodically emerge in the press, it is not that surprising that federal observers were told to monitor the activities during this year’s elections on August 28.
For example, in May of this year, controversy surfaced when a debate was ignited about the Arizona immigration law, which requires the officials check immigration statuses when making stops or arrests.
States Argue Immigration Law
Using his “strongest language yet on US immigration policy”, Deval Patrick, current governor of Massachusetts, publicly derided Arizona and Alabama’s controversial immigration laws. In a tough speech at Tufts University, Deval Patrick slated Arizona’s and Alabama’s immigration policies as being “hysterical and poisonous”.
“The actions of various states to take matters into their own hands have been ham-fisted, self-defeating, and even racist,” said Patrick. (3)
With such “racist” immigration legislation in practice in Arizona and Alabama, it is not surprising that if anywhere in the United States needed to bring in federal observers to watch and record activities during voting hours at polling stations, it is these two states.
It is equally as unsurprising to learn that this is not the first time these counties have required the assistance of federal election monitors. According to Yvonne Reed, a Maricopa County Elections Department spokesperson, over the past decade the Arizona County has received federal election monitors.
“We never know how many, nor where they plan to go. They inform us they are arriving, and that’s it,” Yvonne Reed told AzCentral.com. (4)
For example, in the early 1990s, federal justice monitors visited regions of Arizona that had ethnic Indian groups who spoke the Navajo language. The state had previously lost a court case about its failure to provide the votes of people who spoke in Navajo.
The decision to monitor polling activities in the Arizona County follows the awaiting of a federal judge’s verdict in a case claiming “systemic discrimination against Hispanics” by Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office. (4)
Other States Require Federal Monitors
Although it is far from just Arizona and Alabama that are required to receive federal election monitors, typically during federal elections.
In April of this year, Top Secret Writers reported about similar DoJ monitors of elections in Wisconsin. A day before the Wisconsin elections were due to take place, personnel from the DoJ were called in to ensure that assistance at polling stations throughout Wisconsin was provided in Spanish.
While the state of Arizona continues to be at odds with the Obama administration about immigration laws, the debate over whether or not election monitoring is really needed has heated up in recent months, with the monitoring at polling stations in Wisconsin, Alabama and Arizona.
In an explanation about the monitoring of elections, the Justice Department stated:
“In some instances, there are concerns about racial discrimination in the voting process; other times, monitoring is done to ensure compliance with bilingual procedures.” (5)
Not appeased by this explanation, it is expected that political subdivisions may petition to end voting rights observers. The Justice Department also admits that the attorney general may put a stop to election monitoring if there is no longer any “reasonable cause” to believe that people are being deprived of the right to vote on account of their ethnicity. (5)
Surely this would be an imprudent move, given that voter suppression as a strategy to influence an election may increase if there were no election monitors, or no threat of election monitors present.
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