-By Terry Frieden
November 2, 2012- Washington (CNN) – The Justice Department Friday announced that it is dispatching more than 780 federal observers and monitors to 23 states to watch for potential problems which would violate voting rights protected by federal law.
The Justice Department said it was sending observers to 51 jurisdictions in those states to help enforce federal voting rights laws which protect ballot access.
In addition to concern about discrimination based on languages and ethnicity, the federal officials will be ensuring voters with disabilities are accommodated, and ensuring that no procedures are used to subject voters to different procedures on the basis of race, color or national origin.
Many of the locations being targeted for the 2012 general election have appeared on similar lists for past elections. Justice officials say the federal monitors will maintain low profile positions, and will not be involved in the voting process unless problems arise.
The total of 780 officials is about the same size as the contingent sent to watch the 2008 presidential election.
Jon Greenbaum, Chief Counsel for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, says his organization is generally pleased with the locations selected for federal monitoring. The organization successfully pushed, for example, for monitors to be sent to Maricopa County, Arizona because of potential problems for Hispanic voters, and the group noted potential for discrimination against black voters in Alabama and Mississippi counties.
Historic incidents of discrimination against Native American voters prompted observers to be sent to Shannon County, South Dakota, and Sandoval County, New Mexico, Greenbaum said. In Chicago, several ethnic minorities have suffered incidents in the past, including lack of poll workers who spoke Chinese, South Asian, or other minority languages. A growing Muslim population in Detroit and Hamtramck, Michigan also had caused issues for native Arab and Middle Eastern language speakers at polling places, Greenbaum said.
The trained federal observers will be watching over voting procedures at polling locations in Russell County, Alabama; Maricopa County, Arizona; Alameda and Riverside Counties in California; Randolph County in Georgia; East Carroll Parish, Louisiana; Paola County, Mississippi; Colfax County, Nebraska; Sandoval, County, New Mexico; Orange County, New York; Cuyahoga and Lorain Counties in Ohio; Williamsburg County, South Carolina; Shannon County, South Dakota; and Dallas, Fort Bend, and Jefferson Counties in Texas.
In addition Justice Department lawyers are being sent to Mobile County, Alabama; Pima County, Arizona; The city of Denver and Arapahoe County, Colorado; Duval, Hendry, Hillsborough, Lee, Miami-Dade, Orange and Osceola counties in Florida.