“I want the American people to know that the Justice Department will stand vigilant — working in a fair and nonpartisan manner to ensure that every voter can cast his or her ballot free of intimidation, discrimination or obstruction,” the attorney general said in a video announcement Monday.
The monitoring will take place in 28 jurisdictions. Holder said his agency chose the locations based on “independent and nonpartisan consideration and expertise” after receiving information from “a wide variety of citizens and groups.” His comments suggests that individuals and groups have raised concerns about potential problems.
The Justice Department has been actively involved with polling issues during the Obama administration, assisting in efforts to overturn stricter voter-identification laws and early-voting limits on grounds that they suppress voting, especially among minorities.
In a setback for the agency, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that Texas could proceed with stricter voter-ID rules. A lower court had declared the measure unconstitutional, saying it would keep hundreds of thousands of voters from casting ballots and disproportionately harm African Americans and Hispanics.
The Justice Department filed a statement of interest in July to support a group’s legal challenge of an Ohio law that limits early voting.
The agency plans to monitor three jurisdictions in Ohio and two in Texas. Florida will have the most oversight, with officials watching four jurisdictions. DOJ has posted a full list of the locations on its Web site.
The Justice Department drew criticism soon after President Obama took office after narrowing a voter-intimidation case that involved the New Black Panther Party. On Election Day 2008, two of the group’s members had stood in front of a polling place in Philadelphia, with both wearing military gear and one carrying a nightstick.
The agency’s civil rights division dropping the New Black Panther Party and one of the men in the incident, deciding to focus solely on the man who held the nightstick. Department officials said they did not have sufficient evidence to pursue the case against the other defendants, but Justice officials who served during the George W. Bush administration argued that there was ample evidence to pursue the case more fully.
The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility concluded in 2011 that politics played no role in the handling of the case.