Copyright (c) 2007 University of Michigan Law School
Michigan Journal of Race & Law
ARTICLE: THE POWER OF OBSERVATION: THE ROLE OF FEDERAL OBSERVERS UNDER THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT
13 Mich. J. Race & L. 227
James Thomas Tucker*
A well-known riddle asks, "If a tree falls in a forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" A variation of that riddle could be applied to public elections. If voting discrimination occurs and no one is around to observe it, did it happen?
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) authorizes federal courts 1 and the Attorney General of the United States 2 to send federal observers to certified jurisdictions "to secure equal voting rights of all citizens." 3 Observers serve as the eyes and ears for the Federal Government and the public it protects to ensure compliance with the Act. Their presence at polling and ballot counting locations make voting discrimination less likely to occur on election day without being documented and addressed. 4 In the course of doing so, federal observers help preserve the fundamental right of all voters to participate in the democratic process.
This Article explores the role of federal observers under the recently reauthorized VRA. Part I provides an overview of the federal observer provisions, including the role of observers, selection of jurisdictions for observer coverage, training of observers, and the preparation and use of observer reports. Part II describes the constitutionality of the provisions through preservation of ballot secrecy and prevention of voting discrimination. Part III explains the need to keep federal observers neutral and free from partisan influences that often lead to the very discrimination requiring their presence. The manner in ...
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