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U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
Voting Section Home Page

About Federal Observers and Election Monitoring

The federal courts and the Attorney General may certify counties or other political subdivisions of a State so that federal observers may be assigned to those political subdivisions.

The Act permits federal observers to monitor procedures in polling places and at sites where ballots are counted in certified political subdivisions. The Voting Section conducts investigations to determine whether it is likely that minority voters will not be allowed to cast a ballot without interference in particular polling places on election day, and therefore whether federal observers are needed. If so, the Voting Section notifies the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that federal observers are needed, which OPM recruits, and then, in cooperation with Voting Section attorneys, supervises the people who serve as federal observers. Federal observers write reports of the activities they witness in polling places and provide those reports to the Voting Section. The Voting Section will assess these reports to determine whether further enforcement of the Voting Rights Act is needed in the political subdivision.

Federal Observers

The Voting Rights Act provides for the appointment of federal observers by order of a federal court pursuant to Section 3(a), or, with regard to political subdivisions covered under Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, upon the certification by the Attorney General, pursuant to Section 8 (previously Section 6).   A total of 148 counties and parishes in 9 states have been certified by the Attorney General: Alabama (22 counties), Arizona (3),
Georgia (29), Louisiana (12), Mississippi (50), New York (3), North Carolina (1), South Carolina (11)
and Texas (17).

Political subdivisions certified by the Attorney General for federal observers under the Voting Rights Act:

Date certified
Alabama (22)
Autauga County 10/30/65
Barbour County 10/11/94
Bullock County 11/06/78
Chambers County 07/31/84
Choctaw County 06/01/66
Conecuh County 09/02/80
Crenshaw County 01/05/87
Dallas County 08/10/65
Elmore County 10/30/65
Greene County 10/30/65
Hale County 08/10/65
Jefferson County 01/22/66
Lowndes County 08/10/65
Marengo County 08/10/65
Monroe County 09/06/84
Montgomery County 10/02/65
Perry County 08/20/65
Pickens County 09/01/78
Russell County 09/25/78
Sumter County 05/03/66
Talladega County 11/04/74
Wilcox County 08/20/65
Arizona (3)
Apache County 11/04/86
Navajo County 11/04/86
Yuma County 02/26/91
Georgia (29)
Baker County 11/05/68
Baldwin County 08/13/84
Brooks County 07/17/90
Bulloch County 08/01/80
Burke County 11/07/78
Butts County 08/31/82
Calhoun County 08/01/80
Chattahoochee County 08/13/84
Early County 08/01/80
Hancock County 11/08/66
Jefferson County 08/13/84
Johnson County 08/01/80
Lee County 03/28/67
McIntosh County 07/21/92
Meriwether County 08/06/76
Mitchell County 08/01/80
Peach County 11/04/72
Pike County 08/13/84
Randolph County 08/10/92
Screven County 03/28/67
Stewart County 08/06/76
Sumter County 08/01/80
Talbot County 08/09/88
Taliaferro County 11/05/68
Telfair County 08/01/80
Terrell County 03/28/67
Tift County 08/01/80
Twiggs County 09/03/74
Worth County 08/13/84
Louisiana (12)
Bossier Parish 03/28/67
Caddo Parish 03/28/67
De Soto Parish 03/28/67
East Carroll Parish 08/10/65
East Feliciana Parish 08/10/65
Madison Parish 08/13/66
Ouachita Parish 08/20/65
Plaquemines Parish 08/10/65
Sabine Parish 10/01/74
St. Helena Parish 08/18/72
Tensas Parish 10/22/99
West Feliciana Parish 10/30/65
Mississippi (50)
Adams County 09/16/91
Amite County 03/28/67
Benton County 09/28/65
Bolivar County 09/28/65
Carroll County 12/22/65
Chickasaw County 08/02/99
Claiborne County 04/14/66
Clay County 09/28/65
Coahoma County 09/28/65
Copiah County 12/13/83
Covington County 08/06/79
De Soto County 10/30/65
Forrest County 06/03/67
Franklin County 03/28/67
Greene County 08/06/79
Grenada County 07/22/66
Hinds County 10/30/65
Holmes County 10/30/65
Humphreys County 09/28/65
Issaquena County 06/03/67
Jasper County 04/14/66
Jefferson County 10/30/65
Jefferson Davis County 08/20/65
Jones County 08/20/65
Kemper County 11/04/74
Leake County 07/26/99
Leflore County 08/10/65
Lowndes County 08/23/83
Madison County 08/10/65
Marshall County 08/08/67
Monroe County 09/16/91
Neshoba County 10/31/65
Newton County 12/22/65
Noxubee County 04/14/66
Oktibbeha County 03/28/67
Pearl River County 05/09/74
Quitman County 11/03/80
Rankin County 04/14/66
Scott County 05/20/93
Sharkey County 06/03/67
Simpson County 12/22/65
Sunflower County 05/02/67
Tallahatchie County 08/19/71
Tunica County 11/04/75
Walthall County 10/30/65
Warren County 12/22/65
Washington County 08/10/83
Wilkinson County 08/08/67
Winston County 04/14/66
Yazoo County 10/30/71
New York (3)
Bronx County 11/04/85
Kings County 11/04/85
New York County 11/04/85
North Carolina (1)
Edgecombe County 05/07/84
South Carolina (11)
Bamberg County 10/12/84
Calhoun County 10/02/84
Chester County 06/12/90
Clarendon County 10/30/65
Colleton County 10/12/84
Darlington County 11/06/78
Dorchester County 10/30/65
Hampton County 10/12/84
Marion County 06/26/78
Richland County 10/02/84
Williamsburg County 10/02/84
Texas (17)
Atascosa County 11/03/80
Bee County 11/01/76
Crockett County 08/11/78
Dallas County 04/06/84
El Paso County 11/06/78
Fort Bend County 04/30/76
Frio County 11/01/76
Galveston County 12/10/96
Hildalgo County 11/08/88
Jefferson County 12/10/96
La Salle County 11/01/76
Medina County 04/30/76
Reeves County 05/05/78
Titus County 11/01/02
Uvalde County 04/30/76
Victoria County 04/03/87
Wilson County 04/30/76

Section 3(a) of the Voting Rights Act provides that a federal court may authorize the appointment of federal observers by the Director of the Office of Personnel Management to serve in a political subdivision for such period of time as the court deems appropriate to enforce the voting guarantees of the fourteenth or fifteenth amendment.  A total of 19 political subdivisions in 10 states are currently certified by federal court order: Arizona (1), California (4), Illinois (1), Louisiana (1), Massachusetts (2), New Jersey (1), New Mexico (2), New York (1), South Dakota (2), and Texas (4).

Political subdivisions that are eligible for federal observers as a result of court orders under the Voting Rights Act:

Arizona Cochise County 10/12/06 order, effective until 12/31/08
California City of Rosemead 8/10/07 order, effective until 30 days after the 2009 municipal election (previously covered by 9/8/05 order)
City of Paramount 8/23/05 order, effective until 12/31/09
City of Azusa 8/26/05 order, effective until 12/31/09
City of Walnut 11/9/07 order, effective until 12/31/10
Illinois Kane County 11/7/07 order, effective until 12/31/10
Louisiana St. Landry Parish 12/5/79 order, effective "until further order of this Court"
Massachusetts City of Boston 10/18/05 order, effective until 12/31/08
(previously covered by 9/22/05 order)
City of Springfield 1/16/08 order, effective until 1/31/10
(previously covered by 9/15/06 order)
New Jersey Borough of Penns Grove 7/29/08 order, effective through 3/31/11
New Mexico Cibola County 3/19/07 order, effective through 1/15/09
(previously covered by 5/3/04, 4/21/94, 12/17/84 orders)
Sandoval County 11/28/07 order, effective through 1/31/09
(previously covered by 12/17/84, 5/17/90, 9/9/94 and 11/8/04 orders)
New York Westchester County 1/3/08 order, effective through 12/31/08
(previously covered by 7/18/05 order)
South Dakota Buffalo County 2/12/04 order, effective until 1/1/13
Charles Mix County 12/4/07 order, effective until 12/1/14
Texas Brazos County 6/29/06 order, effective until 3/1/09
Ector County 8/26/05 order, effective until 12/31/09
Galveston County 7/20/07 order, effective until 12/31/10
Hale County 4/27/06 order, effective until 12/31/09

Election Monitoring

Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act, provides for the appointment of federal observers within political subdivisions certified by the Attorney General or by order of a federal court pursuant to the Voting Rights Act. The monitoring of elections by federal observers is an important aspect of the Voting Section's enforcement efforts. In some instances there are concerns about racial discrimination in the voting process; other times monitoring is done to ensure compliance with bilingual election procedures. The success of the federal observer program in consistently achieving both of these objectives is possible by the long-term commitment of the United States Office of Personnel Management to recruit, train, and supervise these federal employees, who serve as neutral and impartial observers of election-day procedures, and by cooperation and coordination with state and local election officials.

Sometimes, the Department learns of election-related problems that may appear to warrant the assignment of federal observers but there is insufficient time to either arrange for the assignment or to develop the factual predicate necessary for the certification of the political subdivision. In addition, such problems may occur in jurisdictions that are not eligible for such certification because they are not covered under Section 4. Finally, the Department may have information indicating potential violations of other federal voting laws. Under these circumstances, one or more attorneys may be assigned to monitor the election and maintain contact with state and local officials. Thus, from time to time attorneys have monitored elections either by telephone from Washington, D.C. or in person at the site of the election.

How to Request Monitoring of an Election by the Civil Rights Division

Termination of Federal Observer Assignment Authority

Section 13 of the Voting Rights Act sets forth the procedures by which a political subdivision where federal observers have been assigned due to certification by the Attorney General, may petition for the termination of such assignment authority. The Attorney General may terminate such assignment authority for a jurisdiction if:

  1. the Director of the Census has determined that more than 50% of the nonwhite persons of voting age are registered to vote and

  2. there is no longer reasonable cause to believe that persons will be deprived or denied the right to vote on account of race or color, or in contravention of the guarantees set forth in Section 4(f)(2) of the Voting Rights Act for language minority groups.

A political subdivision also may file an action for a declaratory judgment in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia that the federal observer assignment authority for the political subdivision should be terminated.

Any currently certified political subdivision that would like to submit a petition for termination of the federal observer assignment authority may contact the Voting Section:

Chief, Voting Section
Civil Rights Division, Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Room 7254 NWB
Washington, DC 20530

You can call, toll-free, at 800/253-3931.

Last Revised - May 19, 2008