In a major victory for civil rights groups, the Department of Justice has announced it won't be stationing criminal prosecutors at polls on Election Day.
This is a big shift for the DOJ. As the AP notes:
The move reverses a decades-long practice that put prosecutors on the lookout for voter fraud, ballot access violations and other polling problems.
"In light of questions we have been asked regarding who will serve as election monitors, I want to inform the public that no criminal prosecutors will be utilized as election monitors on Election Day this year," acting Assistant Attorney General Grace Chung Becker said in a statement.
The decision comes after 40 civil rights groups including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund met with the DOJ two weeks ago, warning that the presence of prosecutors could have a chilling effect, especially new young and African-American voters. The DOJ says it will still station election monitors, but they won't include criminal prosecutors.
It's important to note how big of a reversal this represents. The myth of widespread voter fraud had become a staple of DOJ and Bush administration policy, inspiring a raft of restrictive laws such as the ID match law that will likely disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters in Florida this year.
But as the New York Times pointed out in an excellent piece last year, voter fraud turned out to be largely a Republican urban legend:
Five years after the Bush administration began a crackdown on voter fraud, the Justice Department has turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections, according to court records and interviews. Although Republican activists have repeatedly said fraud is so widespread that it has corrupted the political process and, possibly, cost the party election victories, about 120 people have been charged and 86 convicted as of last year.
Although based on scant evidence, the "voter fraud" movement is far from dead. In a little-noticed move last month, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hired Hans von Spakovsky, the former DOJ official whose nomination to the Federal Elections Commission was opposed because of his zealous pursuit of laws to restrict voting access.