Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday it would be placing election monitors in Harris, Dallas and Waller counties for the general election.
The department regularly monitors elections to protect the rights of voters, but its announcement comes about a week after Texas civil rights advocates expressed concern over reports of poll workers throughout the state sharing inaccurate or incomplete polling information about the state's modified voter ID law.
“The bedrock of our democracy is the right to vote, and the Department of Justice works tirelessly to uphold that right not only on Election Day, but every day,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement. “On Election Day itself, lawyers in the Civil Rights Division’s Voting Section will staff a hotline starting in the early hours of the morning, and just as we have sent election monitors in prior elections, we will continue to have a robust election monitors program in place on election day."
The department's Civil Rights Division plans to deploy more than 500 personnel to 67 jurisdictions in 28 states to monitor the polls on Election Day. The Civil Rights Division is charged with enforcing the federal voting rights laws across the country, according to the department.
The Department of Justice did not specify why it included three counties in Texas as part of its Election Day monitoring. But broadly, according to its website, it may focus on communities where "there are concerns about racial discrimination in the voting process; other times monitoring is done to ensure compliance with bilingual election procedures."
Harris and Dallas counties are, respectively, the largest and second-largest counties in Texas.
In July, a federal appeals court ruled that Texas' 2011 voter ID law was discriminatory. In August, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ordered that voters who possess one of the forms of photo ID accepted under the law must show it at the polls to vote but that those who don't can still vote if they sign a declaration stating a "reasonable impediment" prevented them from obtaining one and present proof of residence.
Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart said Monday that he thought the monitors were largely being sent to Harris County due to a lawsuit the Justice Department filed in August over voting access for the disabled. According to the lawsuit, voters with disabilities are “being denied the same opportunities as non-disabled voters to vote in person."
Besides the earlier lawsuit, Stanart said the federal monitors may also be coming over concerns with the state's revised voter ID law. However, he said the monitors will likely not be allowed inside the polling places, but will have to stand at least 100 feet from entrances like everyone else.
"[The monitors] might be in the way a little bit, but other than that I don’t think it’s a big issue," Stanart said. "We go to an extreme degree to ensure that every voter with a disability has access to our polls. I don’t think there’s anyone that can’t get in to vote in our polls on election day."
In an emailed statement, Waller County Election Administrator Dan Teed said "it is good to have the Department of Justice back in town. They have been an indispensable asset in our quest to provide excellent service to our voters in Waller County."
Teed said he expected the monitors "will prove to be an important tool in ensuring that all voters are treated with the bipartisan kindness for which we are becoming well known."
Jim Malewitz contributed to this report.
Read related Tribune coverage here:
- There are scattered reports of outdated signs and poll workers providing inaccurate information as Texas holds its first general election since federal courts found the state's voter ID law violated the Voting Rights Act.
- A report shows Texas leads the nation in the number of polling places that have been closed since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down part of the Voting Rights Act.
Here’s what you need to know about voting in Texas this year:
- Get election stats for your county.
- What Texans need to know about voter ID.
- What are the rules for Texas poll watchers? We explain.
- The voting-age population figure being used by the Texas secretary of state's office to calculate registration and turnout percentages may be off the mark.
- A record 15.1 million Texans have registered to vote in the November election — a number that eclipses the preliminary estimate by more than 85,000.
- Texas ranked eighth-to-last in voter turnout for the presidential primaries.
- We’re tracking how many Texans are turning out to vote early this year compared to 2008 and 2012.
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