Justice Department election monitors visit Sitka as part of nationwide check

The U.S. Department of Justice dispatched officials to 64 election jurisdictions in 24 states to ensure compliance with federal voting rights laws in last week’s midterm elections — including Sitka, Bethel, Dillingham and the Kusilvak Census Area in Western Alaska.

The election monitors included lawyers from the Justice Department civil rights division and U.S. attorney’s offices across the nation.

Federal authorities said such monitoring is a regular occurrence around election day, but this year especially civil rights groups and others have raised alarm over potential voter intimidation at some polling places and ballot boxes. The Justice Department said the monitors were sent to “protect the rights of voters,” as they have for decades.

Sitka Precinct 2 Chairman Dorothy Orbison said she was interviewed the Friday before the Nov. 8 election by Dov Lutzker, a Justice Department civil rights division special counsel in the disability rights section.

Orbison, who was the election official in charge of the voting site at Sitka’s Centennial Hall, said Lutzker asked her about her training as it relates to voters with disabilities and barriers to voting. Orbison, an election official for more than 20 years, said she told the monitor about the training she and other election officials receive from the state Division of Elections before every election.

“He did not express his concerns, he was just asking about my training,” she said. When he asked whether Sitka had any problems with access, she said her reply was, “I have not seen a voter denied access to voting” due to any lack of accommodations for people with disabilities.

The 2022 election played out against the backdrop of persistent falsehoods alleged by former President Donald Trump and his Republican allies about losing the 2020 vote, a relentless campaign that will have implications as people cast their ballots.

Democrats have expressed concerns over the potential for voter suppression.

The 64 jurisdictions where federal monitors went included Maricopa County, Arizona, where there have been reports of people watching ballot boxes, sometimes armed or wearing ballistic vests. The Justice Department also announced it would send monitors to Cole County, Missouri, where local elections officials have said they would block the monitors.

The attorneys were in regular touch with election officials in the locations and watched for signs of disruption to voters’ ability to cast ballots. There is also a call-in line should voters feel they are suffering discrimination at a polling place.

The monitors are being sent to “protect the rights of voters,” as they have for decades, the Justice Department said the day before the election.

The monitors are lawyers who work for the U.S. government. They are not law enforcement officers or federal agents. They generally include lawyers from the Justice Department’s civil rights division and U.S. attorney’s offices across the nation. The government also sometimes brings in employees from other agencies, such as the Office of Personnel Management, who are authorized to act as monitors under a federal court order.

The Justice Department has sent attorneys to monitor election sites and compliance with federal voting laws for more than five decades. The department’s civil rights lawyers are responsible for enforcing civil action tied to the voting statutes and protecting the right to vote.


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