The Department of Justice is planning to send elections monitors to four counties in North Carolina, the Fayetteville Observer reported. The North Carolina State Elections Board informed the counties Forsyth, Wake, Cumberland and Robeson counties via a memo Wednesday to expect federal elections monitors at their polling places next week, according to the AP.
State Board of Elections’ executive director Kim Strach said she did not know why the DOJ intended to send monitors, nor did she know the specific precincts where they would be serving, according to the AP.
“Chief judges in the precincts must allow these federal observers within the voting place,” Strach said in the memo, according to the Observer.
Cumberland County director of elections Terri Robertson told the Observer Wednesday that she was not sure why the DOJ was sending monitors there.
Cumberland County has been involved in a number of tussles with voting rights advocates over its election protocols.
Civil rights groups objected to the attempts the county made to limit the hours and locations of early voting, which is used disproportionately by black voters. Voting rights advocates also raised concerns about the limited early voting options in Forsyth and Wake counties. (Some, but not all, of the issues the groups raised were ameliorated by the state board.)
Cumberland County is also the subject of an NAACP-NC lawsuit alleging a voter purge targeting African Americans. Two other counties are also being sued over the process they’ve used to remove voters from the rolls, a process a federal judge called “insane” Wednesday. The DOJ submitted a letter of interest supporting the NAACP-NC in the lawsuit.
The news also comes amid concerns that Donald Trump’s rhetoric will stir his supporters to take on vigilante poll watching tactics that amount to voter intimidation.
North Carolina recently saw a number of restrictive provisions in its 2013 elections law struck down down by an appeals court. The court said they were designed “with almost surgical precision” to make it harder for African Americans to vote. North Carolina passed the law almost immediately after the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision, which dismantled a provision in the federal Voting Rights Act that required the state and other localities to seek federal approval for election policy changes.
Under the pre-Shelby regime, the Department of Justice was able to send federal elections observers — which have more authority and latitude than the agency’s elections monitors — to the places like North Carolina that were covered by the VRA’s so-called “preclearance” provision. The DOJ has interpreted the Shelby decision to mean it can no longer send observers to those states, and is apparently relying on its election monitoring program instead.