Department of Justice's Activities to Address Past Election-Related Voting Irregularities: GAO-04-1041R

Jenkins, Jr., William O.
September 2004
GAO Reports;9/14/2004, p1
Government Documents
Election-day problems in Florida and elsewhere in November 2000 raised concerns about voting systems that included, among other things, alleged voting irregularities that may have affected voter access to the polls. The term voting irregularities generally refers to a broad array of complaints relating to voting and/or elections that may involve violations of federal voting rights and/or federal criminal law for which the Department of Justice (DOJ) has enforcement responsibilities. The Ranking Minority Members of several Congressional committees requested that we review activities at DOJ to help ensure voter access to the polls and actions to address allegations of voting irregularities. This report (1) identifies and describes changes DOJ has made since November 2000 to help ensure voter access to the polls; (2) identifies and describes actions that the Voting Section in DOJ's Civil Rights Division has taken to track, address, and assess allegations of election-related voting irregularities received between November 2000 and December 2003; and (3) assesses the Voting Section's internal control activities to help ensure relevant, accurate, and reliable recording and documentation of allegations of voting irregularities to accurately track actions taken in response to allegations and provide accurate and complete information to the public and congressional committees. Since November 2000, DOJ has implemented changes to help ensure voter access to the polls. The Voting Section emphasized the importance of its monitoring of election-day activities and increased its monitoring of these activities. The Voting Section also (1) placed a greater priority on protecting the voting rights of language minority voters; (2) placed a priority on enforcing and preparing for compliance with the federal statute to help ensure voting rights of overseas voters; (3) provided additional training to Assistant U.S. Attorneys on civil rights statutes to educate them about voters' rights; and (4) provided guidance to states regarding the implementation of sections of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) that DOJ enforces. The Attorney General directed the Civil Rights Division to work with civil rights leaders, state and local election officials, and U.S. Attorney Offices prior to election day in an effort to help ensure that citizens' voting rights are protected. The Attorney General also directed the Criminal Division to work with these same groups in helping to preserve ballot integrity and prevent election offenses. According to Voting Section officials, DOJ plans to help ensure voter access for the upcoming November 2004 election include increasing its monitoring of elections, coordinating with civil rights organizations, and establishing procedures for bringing the concerns of civil rights organizations about specific issues or jurisdictions to DOJ on or before election day in November 2004. The Voting Section has used several means of tracking allegations of voting irregularities and the Section's actions with regard to those allegations. Actions that Voting Section attorneys took to address allegations of voting irregularities initiated from November 2000 to December 2003 included contacting cognizant election officials at the state and local levels; obtaining data as appropriate; interviewing voters affected by alleged voting irregularities; meeting with minority groups; and assessing the merits of the allegations to determine what, if any, further action was needed. Regarding internal controls, we found that the Voting Section did not have a reliable method to consistently record and document telephone calls received alleging voting irregularities. The Voting Section plans to take several actions to address voting irregularities for the November 2004 election, including, among other things, using a telephone log similar to the one used for the November 2002 election. In addition, we found that the Voting Section did not routinely track its election-monitoring activities through its Interactive Case Management (ICM) system. The Voting Section said that it has plans to assign one identification number to track these activities in the future. Lack of specifics about allegations and actions limits DOJ's ability to have accurate and clear information to share with the public or Congress about the types of allegations received and actions taken. If the Voting Section collects more precise information about voter allegations, it is in a better position to assure the public that it has addressed allegations of voting irregularities. Moreover, if it documents actions taken more precisely, it is better able to reassure the public and Congress of its commitment to enforce federal voting rights statutes.


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