The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) is significantly reducing the number of federal observers stationed inside polling places for the November 8 elections. This is taking place in conditions where yet more voters face laws designed to restrict – not increase – the right to vote. More than a dozen states have strict new election laws that will exclude voters, most using ID requirements at the polls, as well as registration requirements.
The U.S. from its origins has organized to reduce voter participation through various means. These include, today and in the past, voter registration requirements that are systematically racist, geared toward keeping African Americans from participating in the political life of the country. Current laws also target students, the elderly and more generally, as in the past, those who are poor.
The new laws include requirements for presenting only government-approved forms of photo identification at the polls. The requirements are expected to lead to disputes. As well, Donald Trump has called for his supporters to police the polls themselves and is specifically targeting Latinos. The Democrats also are expected to have observers. Both candidates and parties can send observers inside polling stations. None of these volunteers have to be trained or knowledgeable about the laws. Many are expected to intimidate or otherwise disrupt voting by slowing the process and generating long lines by questioning each voter.
For the past five decades, the DoJ has sent hundreds of observers and poll monitors across the country, particularly in the mainly southern states that the DoJ was monitoring for discrimination against voters. The DoJ mandate stemmed from the 1965 Voting Rights Act, itself a result of massive struggles in the south and across the country defending the right to vote. A 2013 Supreme Court ruling eliminated a key part of the Act, removing the federal mandate to approve state changes to election laws.
There are 14 states where state poll workers are being asked to implement new laws, including voter ID requirements, for the first time in a presidential election. According to the DoJ, federal observers will not be sent inside polling places in those states.
In the 2012 presidential election, the last before the court ruling, the DoJ sent more than 780 specially-trained observers and other personnel to polling places in 51 jurisdictions in 23 states to watch for unlawful activity and write up reports about possible civil rights violations. This year the DoJ is sending observers to fewer than five states – and only because judges have ordered the oversight. While the DoJ states the court ruling prevents them from sending observers, rights organizations point out the ruling did not specifically mention observers. And they question why the DoJ announced and publicized the fact that they will not be sending observers.
Repeated experience indicates that even with the federal observers, serious attacks on the right to vote routinely occur on Election Day, much of it by the states themselves. State officials remove eligible voters from the rolls, polling places are moved or removed to favour one or the other party, African Americans are routinely targeted, challenged and more. The entire set up for registration and strict requirements on election day are designed not to defend the right to vote, but to block it. The current actions by the DoJ are in part a means to cause confusion and disruptions at the polls, while blaming the states for it. Is it a set-up to justify federal interference or objections to the results in particular states? Perhaps a federal takeover of elections afterwards? In a situation where the battle for the presidency is supreme among the rulers, and fighting among various factions is greatly intensifying, with states playing a role in them, it is necessary to consider the actions of the DoJ and states in electoral matters.
(Voice of Revolution. Photos: American Civil Liberties Union.)