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More than 400 election observers to monitor Tuesday elections

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Producer
  • 30 jurisdictions will see federal election observers
  • 85 election monitors will be on duty in sensitive areas
  • New Black Panther Party may be prompting some dispatches

Washington (CNN) -- More than 400 federal observers and monitors are being dispatched to 30 potential trouble spots in 18 states to keep an eye on the balloting Tuesday, the Justice Department announced late Friday.

Of that number, about 85 Justice Department attorneys, officially called monitors, will watch over some of the nation's more sensitive locations, including Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Houston, Texas; Cleveland, Ohio; and Maricopa County, Arizona.

The federal delegation is down slightly from the 850 officials sent to watch the polls in 2006 during the last midterm elections. More than 800 monitors and observers were sent to keep an eye on the 2008 Presidential elections.

The Justice Department would not comment Friday on why the 30 jurisdictions were selected, but by including Philadelphia on its target list, it is possible the flap over an incident involving members of the New Black Panther Party was a factor in the decision-making.

In 2008, two members of the New Black Panthers -- one armed with a club -- were videotaped outside a Philadelphia polling station in what vocal critics complain was an attempt to intimidate voters. The Justice Department's decision to drop the case continues to fuel partisan debate.

The New Black Panther Party has announced it will have a presence at some polling places in Houston Tuesday. A spokesman for the group told reporters Friday he welcomes federal monitors but would not allow any intimidation of minorities at the polls. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee had begged Attorney General Eric Holder in an open letter this week to send federal monitors to Houston, and his Civil Rights Division has agreed to do so.

Justice Department lawyers are also being dispatched to Maricopa County, Arizona, where Sheriff Joe Arpaio is engaged in an ongoing legal battle with the Justice Department over alleged discrimination of Hispanic residents by law enforcement officers.

Federal attorneys are also being sent to Cleveland where two months ago the Justice Department announced a settlement with Cuyahoga County officials to protect the rights of Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican voters. The government had claimed voters with limited English proficiency had been denied their full voting rights because of inadequate language assistance.

Many of the other locations will be watched by 335 officials, called observers, appointed by the Office of Personnel Management at the request of the Justice Department. Those locations will be watched for a variety of potential infractions ranging from voter intimidation or coercion targeting voters because of their race, color, national origin, religion or language skills.

The 18 States where one or more counties or cities will have monitors or observers are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.