- Federal Observers
- Election Monitoring
- How to Request Monitoring of an Election by the Civil Rights Division
- Termination of Federal Observer Assignment Activity
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.
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.
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:
|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) 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:
|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"|
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.
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.
- 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
4 Constitution Square
150 M Street, NE
Washington, DC 20530
You can call, toll-free, at 800/253-3931.