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Civil rights monitors sent to five states for elections

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Producer
updated 7:44 PM EST, Mon November 7, 2011
Civil rights monitors are being sent to Mississippi, as voters go to the polls Tuesday to replace Gov. Haley Barbour.
Civil rights monitors are being sent to Mississippi, as voters go to the polls Tuesday to replace Gov. Haley Barbour.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Justice Department sends 11 staff attorneys; 85 trained election observers
  • They will watch activities at the polls and report any irregularities
  • Justice Department sent election monitors to 11 Mississippi counties for August primaries

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Federal civil rights officials announced Monday they have sent election observers to locations in five states to keep an eye out for potential trouble at the polls Tuesday.

The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division dispatched 11 staff attorneys along with 85 trained election observers from the Office of Personnel Management to watch activities at the polls and report any irregularities.

The Justice Department did not explain why the specific locations were selected, but the recent history of the targeted communities has been widely reported.

In Mississippi, monitors are being dispatched to four counties, as voters go to the polls in a gubernatorial election to replace Haley Barbour, who is term-limited from running again. The campaign features the white Republican Lieutenant Gov. Phil Bryant and African-American Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree, a Democrat. Mississippi political observers say Bryant is a strong favorite to win the election.

The Justice Department sent election monitors to 11 Mississippi counties for the primary elections in August.

Three of the four counties where monitors are being sent for Tuesday's election were among the counties where elections were monitored in the primaries. They are Humphreys County and Wilkinson County, which have black majorities, and Panola County, which has a majority of white voters. Federal poll watchers have also been assigned to Leflore County.

The Justice Department has also assigned monitors to Lorain County, Ohio, to protect the rights of Spanish-speaking voters. Last month, the federal government signed an agreement with Lorain County to resolve concerns that limited-English Hispanic voters were being denied their full voting rights because the county failed to provide language assistance as required by law.

In Alameda County, California, the U.S. will monitor voting following an agreement between federal officials and the county in July. The agreement requires Alameda County to provide election materials and information in Spanish and Chinese. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said the agreement "ensures that Alameda County's Spanish- and Chinese-speaking citizens will be able to cast an effective ballot and successfully participate in the electoral process."

In Jasper, Texas, racial tensions have run high over the recall election for three African-American city council members responsible for the hiring of the city's first black police chief.

In Springfield, Massachusetts, activists claim minorities were turned away at the polls in the September primary, and said there was no Spanish-language assistance for voters. Hispanic leaders, the NAACP and ACLU had all urged the Justice Department to travel to Springfield to protect voting rights of all minorities.

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