About Federal Observers And Election Monitoring

The Civil Rights Division conducts monitoring of polling places on election day using federal observers, and as well as monitoring using Division attorneys and staff, to help assess compliance with the federal voting rights laws around the country.

The Voting Rights Act permits federal observers to monitor procedures in polling places and at sites where ballots are counted in eligible political subdivisions. The Division determines whether federal observers are needed in an eligible jurisdiction. If so, the Division notifies the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that federal observers are needed, which OPM recruits, and then, in cooperation with Division attorneys, supervises federal observers. Federal observers write reports of the activities they witness in polling places and provide those reports to the Division.

Federal Observers

The Voting Rights Act provides for the appointment of federal observers by order of a federal court pursuant to Section 3(a), or, (prior to the Shelby County decision) with regard to political subdivisions covered under Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, upon the certification by the Attorney General, pursuant to Section 8 (previously Section 6).

Prior to the Shelby County decision in 2013, a total of 153 counties and parishes in 11 states were certified by the Attorney General for federal observers: Alabama (22 counties), Alaska (1) Arizona (4), Georgia (29), Louisiana (12), Mississippi (51), New York (3), North Carolina (1), South Carolina (11), South Dakota (1) and Texas (18). In light of the Shelby County decision, the Division is not relying on the Section 4(b) coverage formula as a way to identify jurisdictions for election monitoring. Hence, the Division is not relying on the AG certifications as a basis for sending federal observers to monitor elections. Please see the fact sheet here (https://www.justice.gov/crt/file/876246/download)

For historical purposes, the political subdivisions certified by the Attorney General for federal observers under the Voting Rights Act prior to the Shelby County decision were:

State
Subdivision
Date certified
     
Alabama (22)
Autauga County 10/30/65
  Barbour County 10/11/94
  Bullock County 11/06/78
  Chambers County 07/31/84
  Choctaw County 06/01/66
  Conecuh County 09/02/80
  Crenshaw County 01/05/87
  Dallas County 08/10/65
  Elmore County 10/30/65
  Greene County 10/30/65
  Hale County 08/10/65
  Jefferson County 01/22/66
  Lowndes County 08/10/65
  Marengo County 08/10/65
  Monroe County 09/06/84
  Montgomery County 10/02/65
  Perry County 08/20/65
  Pickens County 09/01/78
  Russell County 09/25/78
  Sumter County 05/03/66
  Talladega County 11/04/74
  Wilcox County 08/20/65
     
Alaska (1)
Bethel Census Area 10/06/09
     
Arizona (3)
Apache County 11/04/86
  Maricopa County 03/07/11
  Navajo County 11/04/86
  Yuma County 02/26/91
     
Georgia (29)
Baker County 11/05/68
  Baldwin County 08/13/84
  Brooks County 07/17/90
  Bulloch County 08/01/80
  Burke County 11/07/78
  Butts County 08/31/82
  Calhoun County 08/01/80
  Chattahoochee County 08/13/84
  Early County 08/01/80
  Hancock County 11/08/66
  Jefferson County 08/13/84
  Johnson County 08/01/80
  Lee County 03/28/67
  McIntosh County 07/21/92
  Meriwether County 08/06/76
  Mitchell County 08/01/80
  Peach County 11/04/72
  Pike County 08/13/84
  Randolph County 08/10/92
  Screven County 03/28/67
  Stewart County 08/06/76
  Sumter County 08/01/80
  Talbot County 08/09/88
  Taliaferro County 11/05/68
  Telfair County 08/01/80
  Terrell County 03/28/67
  Tift County 08/01/80
  Twiggs County 09/03/74
  Worth County 08/13/84
     
Louisiana (12)
Bossier Parish 03/28/67
  Caddo Parish 03/28/67
  De Soto Parish 03/28/67
  East Carroll Parish 08/10/65
  East Feliciana Parish 08/10/65
  Madison Parish 08/13/66
  Ouachita Parish 08/20/65
  Plaquemines Parish 08/10/65
  Sabine Parish 10/01/74
  St. Helena Parish 08/18/72
  Tensas Parish 10/22/99
  West Feliciana Parish 10/30/65
     
Mississippi (51)
Adams County 09/16/91
  Amite County 03/28/67
  Benton County 09/28/65
  Bolivar County 09/28/65
  Carroll County 12/22/65
  Chickasaw County 08/02/99
  Claiborne County 04/14/66
  Clay County 09/28/65
  Coahoma County 09/28/65
  Copiah County 12/13/83
  Covington County 08/06/79
  De Soto County 10/30/65
  Forrest County 06/03/67
  Franklin County 03/28/67
  Greene County 08/06/79
  Grenada County 07/22/66
  Hinds County 10/30/65
  Holmes County 10/30/65
  Humphreys County 09/28/65
  Issaquena County 06/03/67
  Jasper County 04/14/66
  Jefferson County 10/30/65
  Jefferson Davis County 08/20/65
  Jones County 08/20/65
  Kemper County 11/04/74
  Leake County 07/26/99
  Leflore County 08/10/65
  Lowndes County 08/23/83
  Madison County 08/10/65
  Marshall County 08/08/67
  Monroe County 09/16/91
  Neshoba County 10/31/65
  Newton County 12/22/65
  Noxubee County 04/14/66
  Oktibbeha County 03/28/67
  Panola County 07/22/11
  Pearl River County 05/09/74
  Quitman County 11/03/80
  Rankin County 04/14/66
  Scott County 05/20/93
  Sharkey County 06/03/67
  Simpson County 12/22/65
  Sunflower County 05/02/67
  Tallahatchie County 08/19/71
  Tunica County 11/04/75
  Walthall County 10/30/65
  Warren County 12/22/65
  Washington County 08/10/83
  Wilkinson County 08/08/67
  Winston County 04/14/66
  Yazoo County 10/30/71
     
New York (3)
Bronx County 11/04/85
  Kings County 11/04/85
  New York County 11/04/85
     
North Carolina (1)
Edgecombe County 05/07/84
     
South Carolina (11)
Bamberg County 10/12/84
  Calhoun County 10/02/84
  Chester County 06/12/90
  Clarendon County 10/30/65
  Colleton County 10/12/84
  Darlington County 11/06/78
  Dorchester County 10/30/65
  Hampton County 10/12/84
  Marion County 06/26/78
  Richland County 10/02/84
  Williamsburg County 10/02/84
     
South Dakota (1)
Shannon County 06/03/10
     
Texas (18)
Atascosa County 11/03/80
  Bee County 11/01/76
  Crockett County 08/11/78
  Dallas County 04/06/84
  El Paso County 11/06/78
  Fort Bend County 04/30/76
  Frio County 11/01/76
  Galveston County 12/10/96
  Hildalgo County 11/08/88
  Jefferson County 12/10/96
  La Salle County 11/01/76
  Medina County 04/30/76
  Reeves County 05/05/78
  Titus County 11/01/02
  Uvalde County 04/30/76
  Victoria County 04/03/87
  Wilson County 04/30/76
  Williamson County 02/26/10

Pursuant to Section 3(a) of the Voting Rights Act, federal observers are currently authorized in 6 political subdivisions in 4 states by federal court order: Alabama (1), Alaska (3), California (1), and Louisiana (1).

Political subdivisions that are eligible for federal observers as a result of court orders under the Voting Rights Act:

State
Subdivision
Terms
     
Alabama Evergreen (Conecuh County) 1/13/14 order, effective until 12/21/20
Alaska Dillingham Census Area
Wade Hampton/Kusilvak Census Area
Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area
9/30/15 order, effective until 12/31/20
9/30/15 order, effective until 12/31/20
9/30/15 order, effective until 12/31/20
California Alameda 10/19/11 order, effective until 3/30/17
Louisiana St. Landry Parish 12/5/79 order, effective "until further order of this Court"

Election Monitoring

 

In light of the Shelby County decision, the Division is not relying on the Section 4(b) coverage formula as a way to identify jurisdictions for election monitoring. The Division can continue to engage OPM federal observers where there is a relevant court order. The Division also will continue to conduct its own election monitoring around the country, using its own staff, without relying on the Section 4(b) coverage formula. Please see the fact sheet here (https://www.justice.gov/crt/file/876246/download)

After the Shelby County decision, the Division can continue to engage OPM federal observers where there is a court order under Section 3(a) of the Voting Rights Act authorizing their presence. The monitoring of elections by federal observers is an important aspect of the Division's voting rights enforcement efforts. The success of the federal observer program is made possible by the long-term commitment of OPM to recruit, train, and supervise these federal observers, who serve as neutral and impartial observers of election-day procedures, and by cooperation and coordination with state and local election officials.

The Division also monitors elections in the field for compliance with the federal voting rights laws in jurisdictions not currently eligible for assignment of federal observers. Under these circumstances, one or more attorneys and staff members from the Division may be assigned to monitor the election in the field on election day and maintain contact with state and local officials.

How to Request Monitoring of an Election by the Civil Rights Division

  • Contact the Voting Section at:
    Phone: 202-307-2767
    Toll-free: 800-253-3931
    Facsimile: 202-307-3961
  • Provide specific and detailed information regarding the need for a federal presence, including:
    • Any incidents of discrimination or interference with the right to vote in connection with upcoming or recent elections;
    • Any complaints to local or state officials about the incidents and what, if anything, was done in response;
    • Names and contact information for victims of discrimination or other violations of federal voting rights law;
    • Names and contact information for any persons who have first-hand knowledge of the incidents;
    • Names and contact information, if possible, for persons alleged to have engaged in discrimination or other violations of federal voting rights law;
    • Locations where incidents have occurred.
    • As much lead time as possible is important in order to permit pre-election investigations and to make logistical and staffing arrangements.

Termination of Federal Observer Assignment Authority

Section 13 of the Voting Rights Act sets forth the procedures by which a political subdivision where federal observers have been assigned due to certification by the Attorney General, may petition for the termination of such assignment authority. The Attorney General may terminate such assignment authority for a jurisdiction if:

  1. the Director of the Census has determined that more than 50% of the nonwhite persons of voting age are registered to vote and
  2. there is no longer reasonable cause to believe that persons will be deprived or denied the right to vote on account of race or color, or in contravention of the guarantees set forth in Section 4(f)(2) of the Voting Rights Act for language minority groups.

A political subdivision also may file an action for a declaratory judgment in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia that the federal observer assignment authority for the political subdivision should be terminated.

Any currently certified political subdivision that would like to submit a petition for termination of the federal observer assignment authority may contact the Voting Section:

Chief, Voting Section
Civil Rights Division, Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Room 7254 NWB
Washington, DC 20530

You can call, toll-free, at 800/253-3931.

Updated March 15, 2017

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