President Donald Trump's Justice Department was accused Monday of threatening "the integrity and neutrality of the electoral process" after announcing its plan to send personnel to 44 jurisdictions in 18 states—including key battleground states of Florida, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—to monitor compliance with federal voting rights laws.
"This Justice Department has been missing in action for nearly four years as communities of color have faced voter suppression, voting discrimination, and rising levels of voter intimidation," said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, in a statement.
"Under this administration," she continued, "we have seen virtually no enforcement of the Voting Rights Act and little action, if any at all, to protect and safeguard the rights of Black voters and voters of color."
The department released the plan for the monitoring Monday, noting that its Civil Rights Division is tasked with enforcing federal voting rights laws.
"The work of the Civil Rights Division around each federal general election is a continuation of its historical mission to ensure that all of our citizens can freely exercise this most fundamental American right," Eric S. Dreiband, the assistant attorney general for the division, said in a DOJ statement.
While the Justice Department regularly undertakes such monitoring, Clarke, in her statement, expressed skepticism that its plan is intend to protect voting rights. She asserted that the track record of the Trump aministration and Attorney General William Barr, as well as locations chosen, make clear the motivation for this year's monitoring effort are cause for concern.
"This plan appears to be nothing but a thinly-veiled effort to deploy federal government personnel to communities in so-called 'battleground states,'" said Clarke, urging local offiicals to "refuse to provide voluntary access inside polling places or to vote counting processing to federal officials given the politicized nature of the Justice Department's work."
"Given Attorney General Barr's recent efforts to weaponize the Justice Department during the middle of a presidential election, federal presence at the polls stands to threaten the integrity and neutrality of the electoral process," she said.
"The most striking evidence of the politicized nature of this plan," she added, "is the absence of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, and other states that are home to some of the largest shares of Black voters."
Legal analyst Joyce Vance agreed with Clarke's assessment, calling the plan "a dangerous sign" of the role the DOJ might play on Tuesday and in the days to follow.
The plan also appears to have ruffled the feathers of at least one state election official—the Minnesota secretary of state—and Minneapolis is named as one of the cities where DOJ monitors are being sent.
"When asked for comment," reported local WCCO-TV, "Minnesota's Secretary of State Steve Simon said the state law is very specific and Justice Department personnel won't be allowed inside polling places."