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Continuing a longstanding Justice Department tradition, Attorney General Janet Reno today issued the following statement in advance of next Tuesday's elections:

"Next Tuesday, Americans will have the opportunity once again to help shape the future of this nation by exercising their right to vote. It is a right that forms the foundation of our democratic system of government. It is especially precious for those millions of Americans who have taken steps to register to vote since the last elections for federal office.

"At the Justice Department, we are committed to vigorously enforcing federal election laws ensuring that the right to vote is not subverted through intimidation, suppression, coercion or fraud.

"Federal law protects against such crimes as intimidating or bribing voters, fraud, altering vote tallies, and coercing the votes of the poor, the elderly and the illiterate. It also contains special protections for the rights of minority voters, and guarantees that they can vote free from acts that intimidate or harass them. Further, the law protects the right of voters to mark their own ballot in private or to be assisted by a person of their choice.

"As in the past, every United States Attorney across the nation, working with the FBI, is establishing a special unit to receive reports of corrupt voting practices and to investigate any citizen's complaint that their voting rights have been violated. Anyone who sees evidence of election fraud should contact the U.S. Attorney's office in their area or the FBI.

"We have heard reports that some private citizens may be thinking of going to polling places in minority areas to try interrupt voters by questioning them, or by photographing them, as a part of some attempt to uncover illegal voting. These people should take warning: we will not tolerate harassment of minority voters under this guise. We do not sanction efforts of individuals to take law enforcement efforts into their own hands. Anyone who has evidence of illegal voting activity should give that information to law enforcement officials immediately.

"In addition, since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Justice Department has regularly sent observers around the country to protect the rights of minority voters. This year, we will dispatch more than 140 federal observers to monitor polling places across the country. The counties to which they will be assigned will be announced Monday, November 2."

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