Justice Department observers to monitor Harris County polling locations

November 5, 2012 4:56:34 PM PST
They say every vote counts and the Department of Justice wants to make sure it stays that way. The Justice Department is sending federal observers to monitor polling locations in 23 states to make sure no one is discriminated against on Election Day.

One of the places they are sending personnel is right here in Harris County. They held a news conference Monday to outline what they'll be doing, and how they plan to protect everyone's right to vote.

It is not unusual to have the Department of Justice Voting Rights Division looking at how elections are held. Monitors were here in Harris County earlier this year. The reason for this visit is that a fourth language is now on the ballot; but there may be more to it than that.

When the polls open on Tuesday, there will be 10 monitors from the Department of Justice observing polling places around the county. Their presence here triggered by a change on the election ballot -- a new language is now included.

"It's because we added Chinese. When we added Vietnamese, they were down here for the exact same reason. Just monitoring and making sure we've got everything implemented and everything translated - which we do have. We're ready for them," said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart.

Federal monitors were here during the primary as well when Chinese language ballots were used for the first time. But the monitors can also serve a dual purpose.

"To make sure that people can exercise their rights as poll watchers to protect the integrity of the election, but not interfere with the right of people to vote," said Terry O'Rourke with the Harris County Attorney's Office.

That was the focus of a coalition outside the federal courthouse Monday -- to let voters know the feds are watching the poll watchers from all parties.

"They're not here to intimidate any voter. They're here to make equal the playing field," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. "And that is why we have met today; to be able to make equal the playing field."

It is an issue, says the NAACP, because of the voter ID law and the purging of the names of dead people from voter roles -- both of which have been put on hold.

"All we want to make sure though is that everybody who has a vote can vote," said Reginald Lillie with the NAACP.

And that cuts across all party lines.

Locally, the monitoring will consist of five teams with two monitors each. Monitors will also be placed at precincts in Fort Bend County and Beaumont.


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