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Justice Department Sending Fewer People To Monitor Polling Places


The Justice Department plans to deploy 500 people to watch polling places tomorrow for Election Day. That's a big decrease from the last presidential contest in 2012. Here with us to talk about the issues is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Hey, Carrie.


SHAPIRO: The Justice Department has said that voter protection is one of its top priorities. So why is it sending out fewer people tomorrow?

JOHNSON: Simple answer - the Supreme Court. Back in 2013 in a case called Shelby County, the court struck down the formula that authorities used to figure out which states and counties deserve some extra oversight under the Voting Rights Act. That's after some showing those places have a history of discrimination. And the Justice Department used that same formula to assess where it could send monitors on Election Day.

Lawyers at Justice have analyzed the issue now, and they're sending about 280 fewer people to watch election sites across 28 states. Now, most of those people are going to have to rely on state and local authorities to grant them access inside these voting sites tomorrow. Otherwise they'll be standing outside, away from where people are voting. But Vanita Gupta, who leads the Civil Rights unit at Justice, says most voters shouldn't be able to tell the difference.

SHAPIRO: What's the Justice Department saying it will do if there are voting problems?

JOHNSON: Well, they're opening up a telephone hotline to hear complaints from voters, and local U.S. attorneys have also assigned contact people in case those voters run into trouble. And now, Ari, this is important. The attorney general says if anyone has concerns about threats or violence, they should call police right away.

In the meantime, DOJ is going to be collecting information on how these voting sites comply with laws for minorities and people with disabilities and language minorities and the like.

SHAPIRO: Now, the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, has been saying for months that there could be voter fraud. What's the Justice Department saying about that?

JOHNSON: Well, Trump's campaign has talked a lot about the system being rigged and this threat of voter fraud, but legal scholars who study this issue say voter fraud is actually incredibly rare. It hardly ever happens. We did have one highly publicized incident recently, but it was a woman who voted twice for Donald Trump.

SHAPIRO: Before you go, I want to ask you (laughter) about the FBI one more time because of course yesterday Director James Comey came back into the news, saying that his agency had worked around the clock to review that newly discovered batch of emails and nothing has changed - still no recommendation of charges against Clinton. Does this mean the investigation is over, and what does all of this mean for Comey himself?

JOHNSON: Law enforcement sources say the investigation's wrapping up, but get ready for more because Democrats in Congress now want hearings on how the FBI may have influenced the election. They want to make sure something like this never happens again.

And Republicans want to investigate the investigation. They've asked the FBI and the Justice Department to preserve all documents in the case, and they're setting the stage for a bunch of their own hearings on Hillary Clinton and her emails moving forward.

SHAPIRO: Sounds like if Hillary Clinton is elected president, this could be a very complicated relationship with the FBI director.

JOHNSON: It could, Ari, but it's not unprecedented. Remember her husband, Bill Clinton, had a very complicated relationship with his FBI director, Louis Freeh. The two hardly ever talked as they were in conflict constantly.

SHAPIRO: NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson - thanks, Carrie.

JOHNSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.