The Washington Post: Justice Department significantly reducing number of federal observers stationed inside polling places


But J. Gerald Hebert, the executive director of the Campaign Legal Center, said it is critical to have federal observers who can actually go inside the polling places in the same way that candidates and political parties in most states can designate someone to be inside as a poll watcher.

“You have to distinguish between sending a lawyer to a state who sits down at the U.S. attorney’s office and waits for people to call in,” said Hebert, an official in the Justice Department’s voting section for 20 years who went to several states on Election Day to monitor elections. “They’re not in the polling place, and they’re not even at the polling places,” Hebert said of the monitors. “They’re usually downtown at a hotel or a U.S. attorney’s office. That’s a lot different by a long shot than federal observers inside the polling place, because discrimination at the polls doesn’t take place outside.”

Without federal observers, “there’s nobody watching the [other poll] watchers” who can intimidate or challenge voters or slow down the process and, for example, contribute to long lines at lunchtime when voters have limited time to vote and get back to work, Hebert said.

“There was no need to announce that it’s open season on voters at the polls because there won’t be any federal observers there inside,” Hebert said.

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