ATLANTA -- The Department of Justice has announced its plans for monitoring Election Day, to make sure states are in compliance with federal voting rights laws.
Officials with The Civil Rights Division will be sent to 35 jurisdictions in 19 states - two of those places are in Georgia. Officials will be in Fulton and Gwinnett Counties, home to nearly 20 percent of the state's active voters.
According to the Secretary of State's Office, there are 704,813 active voters in Fulton County. In Gwinnett, there are 526,058 active voters. Statewide, the number of active voters is 6,435,364.
On Election Day, U.S. Attorney B.J. Pak said the Department of Justice will be at the polls in both counties -- but you won't be able to tell who they are.
"They aren't marked in any way. They don't have signage or name tags or anything like that," Pak said. "They pose as regular citizens. They're there to take notes and observe things that seem to be out of line."
Across the country, the DOJ watches polls where additional compliance might be needed with federal election laws -- because of past issues, or because there is a reason to believe new problems might arise.
The increase in Spanish-speaking voters in Gwinnett County is one example. Federal law now requires ballots in Spanish, along with poll workers who are fluent in Spanish.
"This is the first election year where they need to provide ballots in additional languages other than English, so that could be a trigger," Pak said. "Sometimes, when we get complaints from community groups or from governments, those types of factors trigger whether or not we should monitor that jurisdiction."
The DOJ has monitored Fulton, Gwinnett and other Georgia counties in the past.
Federal law protects against crimes such as bribing or intimidating voters, buying or selling votes, impersonating voters or altering vote tallies and marking ballots for voters without their input.
Federal law also protects the rights of voters to cast a provisional ballot if there are questions about their registration. Voters can also ask for help voting if they have a disability or are illiterate.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reiterated the promise of fair elections earlier today in a news release.
“Voting rights are constitutional rights, and they’re part of what it means to be an American,” Sessions said. “The Department of Justice has been entrusted with an indispensable role in securing these rights for the people of this nation. This year we are using every lawful tool that we have, both civil and criminal, to protect the rights of millions of Americans to cast their vote unimpeded at one of more than 170,000 precincts across America. Citizens of America control this country through their selection of their governmental officials at the ballot box. Likewise, fraud in the voting process will not be tolerated. Fraud also corrupts the integrity of the ballot.”
State and local governments have primary responsibility for administering elections, but The Civil Rights Division is charged with enforcing the federal voting rights laws.
The Division will look to see if people are subjected to different voting procedures because of race, disabilities, or other discriminatory actions.
Pak said he appointed an assistant U.S. attorney to serve as the District Election Officer and oversee any complaints of fraud or other voting rights abuses happening in the region.
He added that, if you observe a problem at the polls -- look for basic details.
"Who the workers were, what the situation was," Pak said. "They can relay that information to us and then we will follow up."
Officials will available on Election Day to receive complaints about possible violations of the federal voting rights. To contact someone, call -800-253-3931 or 202-307-2767. They can also be sent through email or by filling out a complaint form on the DOJ's website.
Allegations of election fraud are handled by the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the country and the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section. Complaints can be sent to the local U.S. Attorneys’ Office as well.
Those who witness questionable election-related activity, can call the Georgia Secretary of State's Voter Fraud Hotline at 877-725-9797. They should expect to be contacted by an elections investigator for additional information.
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