Justice Department to monitor Kansas, Nebraska elections

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 01, 2013 4:57 PM

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Justice Department's civil rights division will monitor local elections in two counties in Kansas and Nebraska on Tuesday, the department said.

The oversight of polling places will ensure the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and other federal voting rights laws are complied with, the Justice Department said in a statement on Monday.

The oversight in Nebraska's Douglas County, home to Omaha, the state's biggest city, follows complaints that poll workers denied provisional ballots in the November 2012 general election to voters who failed to produce a voter identification number, said Adam Morfeld, executive director of the nonpartisan Nebraskans For Civic Reform.

The ID number is an internal office tracking number and requiring it violates state and federal laws, he said. The rejections were mostly in minority areas of Omaha, Morfeld said.

Election officials also shut down about a third of Omaha polling places before 2012 primaries, largely in minority areas, he said. Omaha is holding city and school district primaries on Tuesday.

Valerie Stoj, a spokeswoman for the Douglas County Election Commission, said: "We can always improve our process."

Federal monitors will also oversee municipal and school elections in Finney County, Kansas.

County Clerk Elsa Ulrich said the oversight was aimed at guaranteeing that voters had access to Spanish-language election materials. The Justice Department did similar monitoring in the county's 2012 general election, she said.

Finney County, in western Kansas and home to big slaughterhouses, is one of a growing number of U.S. counties where most residents are from racial or ethnic minorities.

The Justice Department declined to give a reason for monitoring the counties. The Voting Rights Act bars discrimination in elections because of race, color or language.

In another sign of contention over voting laws, the Republican-controlled Arkansas House of Representatives overrode on Monday the Democratic governor's veto of a bill that would require voters to show photo identification. The state Senate overrode the veto last week.

During the 2012 general election, voters complained of numerous problems in casting ballots, with Florida voters waiting for hours after polls closed to cast ballots.

Before the 2012 election, judges nationwide heard challenges to new voter identification laws and redrawn voter districts. The most restrictive moves were blocked before the vote.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson.; Editing by Scott Malone, Leslie Adler, Cynthia Johnston and Andre Grenon)