The Slatest

Trump DOJ Will Send Election Monitors to Crucial Counties, but It’s (Probably) Not a Voter Suppression Plot

Two individuals walk past a sign that reads VOTE HERE/AQUI.
A polling station in Maricopa County, Arizona during the state’s August primary. Ralph Freso/Getty Images

Given the ongoing controversies over apparent voter suppression in multiple states and Donald Trump’s history of promoting conspiracy theories about illegal voting, it would be understandable to view the Department of Justice’s announcement that it is sending election monitors to 35 counties across the country with suspicion. Many of the counties the DOJ is targeting (like Georgia’s Gwinnett County) will be crucial to tight House and gubernatorial races—and a quote attributed to Jeff Sessions in the announcement says monitors will be on the alert for “fraud,” which seems like a dog-whistle to right-wingers who are convinced that millions of undocumented caravan terrorists are planning to vote for Democrats on Tuesday.

However!

• The Obama administration sent out “more than 500” monitors in 2016 to 67 different locations in 28 states.

• Federal election monitors—as distinguished from federal election observers—don’t even have the statutory authority to enter polling places unless they’re invited by local officials. Former DOJ civil rights division chief Vanita Gupta told NPR in 2016 that the purpose of monitors, rather, is to simply create a “deterrent effect” and give voters “confidence” via their presence.

• An initial local news report from Oklahoma indicates that the county in that state that’s being monitored is being targeted to ensure that it offers bilingual services, which is a Normal Times function of the DOJ civil rights division.

• A elections official and frequently quoted expert on Latino civic participation in Harris County, Texas (Houston) also called the deployment “routine.”

So … probably normal, unless the monitors all start making ludicrous claims about fraud. We’ll see!