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Justice Department to send hundreds to oversee elections

  • Story Highlights
  • More than 800 federal observers and monitors will go to voting sites in 23 states
  • They aim to protect voters' rights amid record turnout expected Tuesday
  • Observers to be from Personnel Management; monitors from Justice Department
  • Voters can report complaints related to ballot access at 1-800-253-3931
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From Kevin Bohn
CNN Senior Producer
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Justice Department will deploy more than 800 federal observers and monitors to voting sites in 23 states to make sure voters' rights are not violated on Election Day.

The Justice Department says election monitors and observers will be at the polls Tuesday to ensure fairness.

The Justice Department says election monitors and observers will be at the polls Tuesday to ensure fairness.

A record turnout is expected Tuesday, and while many potential problems will come under the purview of state and local officials, the federal government is responsible for making sure federal laws are not violated.

The primary law in question is the Voting Rights Act, which bans intimidation based on race, color or religion. The department will also investigate and prosecute cases of voter fraud.

Unlike in years past, the Justice Department announced last month that it will not use criminal prosecutors to monitor elections. This, the department said, will allay concerns of some voting rights advocates that sending prosecutors would discourage some people from voting.

The observers will come from the Office of Personnel Management, while the monitors will be Justice Department employees. Usually, the destinations chosen are ones where claims of discrimination have occurred in the past or where there are current discrimination allegations.

The goal of those monitors and observers is to make sure "all Americans who are entitled to vote are able to do so," Attorney General Michael Mukasey said.

He added, "The Department of Justice will do all it can to help ensure that elections run as smoothly as possible -- and, equally important, that the American people have confidence in our electoral process."

Besides the monitoring effort, staff members of the Justice Department's civil rights division will be manning a toll-free number where voters can report complaints related to ballot access. The department will also investigate incidents reported through its Web site.

There will be special efforts in all 94 U.S. attorney offices to deal with reports of voter intimidation or fraud.

The Justice Department monitors will be in 29 jurisdictions, including some that have seen past problems concerning voter access, including Duval, Hillsborough and Seminole counties in Florida; Jefferson and Orleans parishes in Louisiana; Cuyahoga County, Ohio; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Monitors also will be sent to Arizona, California, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Jersey, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and Washington state.

Observers are generally sent to areas where federal courts or the attorney general deem them necessary. They will be positioned in precincts in Alabama, Arizona, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, South Dakota and Texas.

Civil rights advocates have called on the Justice Department to be aggressive in its efforts to protect the rights of voters. Almost 40 representatives of various groups met with the attorney general and other Justice Department representatives last month.

One specific area where the Justice Department says it is prepared to act concerns identification laws.

While the Supreme Court ruled Indiana's photo ID law constitutional, officials say the civil rights division will also act if people report such a measure is being applied to them in an illegal or discriminatory way.

All About Elections and VotingU.S. Office of Personnel ManagementU.S. Department of Justice

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