WASHINGTON – More than 1,000 federal poll watchers (search) will be sent to monitor elections in 25 states to assure compliance with voting laws and prevent discrimination or disenfranchisement, the Justice Department announced Thursday.
The 1,090 federal observers and monitors will be on duty in at least 86 locations for Tuesday's election. The number is more than triple the 317 dispatched for the 2000 presidential election, which ended after a 36-day court battle over Florida's votes.
Personnel from the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division (search) will be on hand in eight Florida counties, including Broward, Palm Beach and Dade counties where much of the 2000 election controversy took place.
Monitors and observers are also being sent to other battleground states in the contest between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry, including Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Nevada.
There have already been a raft of legal challenges in several states over possible voting problems, including difficulties with absentee ballots and the handling of ballots cast in the wrong precinct. Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (search), urged the Justice Department in a letter earlier this week to protect against possible voter intimidation and suppression of minority votes.
"We have worked too hard for too long to enfranchise racial and ethnic minority voters in this country," Henderson said.
Monitors and observers are sent to states and counties covered by the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which ended racial barriers to voting, and to other places where there have been problems or where there is an ongoing investigation into voting rights violations.
Their job is to enforce the Voting Rights Act and check for other violations of federal election law, such as ballot tampering and destruction of voter registration materials.
Separately, senior prosecutors will be on duty in all 93 U.S. attorneys offices to handle any complaints about voting problems and pursue any allegations of voting fraud or other elections abuses. The FBI will have agents on duty at headquarters in Washington and in each of its 56 field offices to handle such complaints as well.
Thousands of volunteers from both political parties and affiliated groups are expected to monitor polling places around the country to track turnout and how balloting procedures are performed. Some states have imposed limits on how many are allowed at a given polling place.