Federal observers at polls Tuesday in 22 states

Monday, November 6th 2006, 4:51 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) Federal poll watchers will be in 22 states Tuesday, safeguarding against fraud or discrimination in election districts marked by tight races, large numbers of minority voters and faulty ballot machines.

Justice Department monitors and observers are being assigned to Cuyahoga County, Ohio, which has been dogged by problems with computerized touch-screen voting machines. They will be in Bergen County, New Jersey, a must win prize for both candidates in the state's Senate race.

And they will watching more than a dozen counties nationwide where polls are on American Indian reservations and in big cities dominated by black voters.

In all, the Justice Department is sending an estimated 850 poll watchers to 69 cities and counties, what officials on Monday called an unprecedented number, and twice as many during the 2002 congressional midterm elections.

The government has dispatched poll watchers to ensure fair elections since the 1965 Voting Rights Act was enacted.

Assistant Attorney General Wan J. Kim, who heads the Justice Department's civil rights programs, told reporters last week that the election districts were selected in part because of close races there.

They include Fort Bend and Galveston counties in Texas, where Republican write-in candidate Shelley Sekula-Gibbs is seeking to keep a GOP hold on the seat vacated by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Texas Democrats have accused Sekula-Gibbs of twice entering early voting locations, which is prohibited by law, to introduce herself to voters and workers.

That race also has been marked by allegations of poll workers offering unrequested assistance if voters need help with writing in a candidate or need help writing in Sekula-Gibbs.

Poll watchers will be in several major cities including Boston, Chicago, Denver, New Orleans, San Francisco and parts of New York City, where black and other minority voters traditionally have claimed they were denied access to the ballot box.

The federal watchdogs will be in some small cities, too, like Springfield, Massachusetts, where the Justice Department forced officials to hire bilingual poll workers to help Spanish-speaking residents at the polls.

Eight counties in South Dakota alone, which hosts a number of American Indian reservations, will be visited by the observers and monitors. They will also be in largely rural Berks County, Pennsylvania, one of about nine counties that won't count absentees ballots on election night.