- Federal Observers
- Election Monitoring
- How to Request Monitoring of an Election by the Civil Rights Division
- Termination of Federal Observer Assignment Activity
The Act permits federal observers to monitor procedures in polling places and at sites where ballots are counted in certified political subdivisions. The Voting Section conducts investigations to determine whether it is likely that minority voters will not be allowed to cast a ballot without interference in particular polling places on election day, and therefore whether federal observers are needed. If so, the Voting Section notifies the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that federal observers are needed, which OPM recruits, and then, in cooperation with Voting Section attorneys, supervises the people who serve as federal observers. Federal observers write reports of the activities they witness in polling places and provide those reports to the Voting Section. The Voting Section will assess these reports to determine whether further enforcement of the Voting Rights Act is needed in the political subdivision.
The Voting Rights Act provides for the appointment of federal observers by order of a federal court pursuant to Section 3(a), or, 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). A total of 153 counties and parishes in 11 states have been certified by the Attorney General: 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).
Political subdivisions certified by the Attorney General for federal observers under the Voting Rights Act:
|Bethel Census Area||10/06/09|
|De Soto Parish||03/28/67|
|East Carroll Parish||08/10/65|
|East Feliciana Parish||08/10/65|
|St. Helena Parish||08/18/72|
|West Feliciana Parish||10/30/65|
|De Soto County||10/30/65|
|Jefferson Davis County||08/20/65|
|Pearl River County||05/09/74|
New York (3)
|New York County||11/04/85|
North Carolina (1)
South Carolina (11)
South Dakota (1)
|El Paso County||11/06/78|
|Fort Bend County||04/30/76|
|La Salle County||11/01/76|
Pursuant to Section 3(a), federal observers are authorized by court order in 5 political subdivisions in 4 states are currently certified by federal court order: Alabama (1), California (1), Louisiana (1), and New York (2).
Political subdivisions that are eligible for federal observers as a result of court orders under the Voting Rights Act:
|Alabama||Evergereen (Conecuh County)||1/13/14 order, effective until 12/21/20|
|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"|
|New York||Orange County||4/24/12 order, effective through 1/31/17|
|Village of Port Chester (Westchester County)||12/22/09 order, effective through 6/22/16|
Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act, provides for the appointment of federal observers within political subdivisions certified by the Attorney General or by order of a federal court pursuant to the Voting Rights Act. The monitoring of elections by federal observers is an important aspect of the Voting Section's enforcement efforts. In some instances there are concerns about racial discrimination in the voting process; other times monitoring is done to ensure compliance with bilingual election procedures. The success of the federal observer program in consistently achieving both of these objectives is possible by the long-term commitment of the United States Office of Personnel Management to recruit, train, and supervise these federal employees, who serve as neutral and impartial observers of election-day procedures, and by cooperation and coordination with state and local election officials.
Sometimes, the Department learns of election-related problems that may appear to warrant the assignment of federal observers but there is insufficient time to either arrange for the assignment or to develop the factual predicate necessary for the certification of the political subdivision. In addition, such problems may occur in jurisdictions that are not eligible for such certification because they are not covered under Section 4. Finally, the Department may have information indicating potential violations of other federal voting laws. Under these circumstances, one or more attorneys may be assigned to monitor the election and maintain contact with state and local officials. Thus, from time to time attorneys have monitored elections either by telephone from Washington, D.C. or in person at the site of the election.
- Contact the Voting Section at:
- 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.
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:
- the Director of the Census has determined that more than 50% of the nonwhite persons of voting age are registered to vote and
- 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.