Justice Mostly on Track With Voter Access, GAO Reports

Posted October 20, 2004 at 6:35pm

The Government Accountability Office said last week that the Justice Department has made significant strides toward ensuring voter access to polling places, but GAO warned that Nov. 2 balloting still faces the threat of widespread confusion due to new voting systems and requirements.

GAO recommended that, in the roughly two weeks that remain before the elections, Justice come up with a “reliable method” of tracking voting irregularities and documenting the actions taken to address them.

“By accurately recording and documenting its activities in as clear a manner as possible, the Voting Section [at Justice] contributes to ensuring the public and Congress of the integrity of our voting processes and that allegations of voting irregularities have been addressed,” GAO said in the report.

The report from the Congressional agency was requested by Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), the ranking member of the Governmental Affairs Committee, as well as House Judiciary Committee ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Government Reform Committee.

Many Democrats on Capitol Hill have given voice to allegations from the 2000 elections that minorities, especially blacks, were systematically denied their voting rights. Many Republicans have alleged widespread voter fraud.

The Voting Section at Justice indicated to GAO that, in response to the 2000 election fracas, it has increased its election-monitoring program and taken steps to coordinate closely with civil rights organizations before and during the balloting.

On the charges of voting irregularities in 2000, the Voting Section told GAO that very few of the allegations “fell within [the Voting Section’s] jurisdiction or presented substantive issues that merited further review.” Some of the calls received by the Voting Section included no specific allegation or dealt with “dissatisfaction with the outcome of the election.”

This conclusion was bolstered by interviews with state and local officials, as well as with election monitors, police, civil rights groups and complainants, GAO reported.

For instance, in one much-documented case from the 2000 election, the NAACP National Voter Fund alleged that sheriff’s deputies in marked cars blocked access to one Hillsborough County, Fla., polling place. But the Voting Section found that the police had actually been responding to a nearby burglary, and that no voter had been impeded from the polls.

Nevertheless, GAO determined that the Voting Section lacked formal procedures for logging and dealing with complaints and allegations as they rolled in, thus undermining confidence in the process.