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U.S. Justice Department will again have election monitors in Texas

By Alexa Ura, The Texas Tribune

U.S. Justice Department will again have election monitors in Texas” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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The U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday it will send election monitors to three Texas counties — Harris, Dallas and Waller — to keep an eye on local compliance with federal voting rights laws on Election Day.

Monitors from the Justice Department are regularly deployed across the country for major elections, with Texas counties making the list for at least the past decade under both Democratic and Republican administrations. The three Texas counties are among 64 jurisdictions in 24 states that will have a federal presence Tuesday.

The announcement of the monitors comes ahead of an Election Day shrouded by increasing concerns over voter intimidation, though there have been few, if any, reports of major concern so far in Texas where nearly 5.5 million voters have already cast their ballots.

The department did not specify how it made its selections for monitoring, though Harris and Waller counties have made the list in the last four presidential and midterm elections. Harris County has recently been the site of electoral catastrophes such as the 2020 presidential primary when voters at a polling place on the Texas Southern University campus — one of the nation’s largest historically Black colleges — were left waiting six hours to cast their ballots.

Rural Waller County is home to Prairie View A&M University, a historically Black campus, where generations of students have been caught up in the long struggle for voting rights. The latest chapter of that struggle began in 2018 when a group of students sued the county over a lopsided early voting schedule that offered students — most of them Black — fewer opportunities to vote early than the county’s white residents. Following the suit, the county’s commissioner court extended hours at an on-campus polling place, though a federal judge ruled years later that the county had not discriminated against the students.

Harris and Dallas are also the state’s largest and second-largest counties and home to large populations of Black and Latino voters.

The department has routinely dispatched monitors into the field since the passage of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was meant to equalize access to voting and outlaw discriminatory voting practices. Texas history is pockmarked by efforts to disenfranchise people of color, from the time of “white primaries” and poll taxes to more contemporary examples like the state’s original strict photo ID law, which lawmakers were forced to revise after a federal judge found it intentionally discriminated against Latino and Black voters who were less likely to have one of the seven forms of ID needed to vote.

The fleet of monitors generally includes lawyers from the department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices as well as employees from the Office of Personnel Management, who are authorized to serve as monitors by federal court order. Voters can send complaints on possible violations of federal law to the DOJ through its website or by calling 800-253-3931. Polls open at 7 a.m. on Election Day.

Disclosure: Prairie View A&M University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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