Justice and Law Enforcement:

Department of Justice's Activities to Address Past Election-Related Voting Irregularities

GAO-04-1041R: Published: Sep 14, 2004. Publicly Released: Oct 14, 2004.

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Election-day problems in Florida and elsewhere in November 2000 raised concerns about voting systems that included, among other things, alleged voting irregularities that may have affected voter access to the polls. The term voting irregularities generally refers to a broad array of complaints relating to voting and/or elections that may involve violations of federal voting rights and/or federal criminal law for which the Department of Justice (DOJ) has enforcement responsibilities. The Ranking Minority Members of several Congressional committees requested that we review activities at DOJ to help ensure voter access to the polls and actions to address allegations of voting irregularities. This report (1) identifies and describes changes DOJ has made since November 2000 to help ensure voter access to the polls; (2) identifies and describes actions that the Voting Section in DOJ's Civil Rights Division has taken to track, address, and assess allegations of election-related voting irregularities received between November 2000 and December 2003; and (3) assesses the Voting Section's internal control activities to help ensure relevant, accurate, and reliable recording and documentation of allegations of voting irregularities to accurately track actions taken in response to allegations and provide accurate and complete information to the public and congressional committees.

Since November 2000, DOJ has implemented changes to help ensure voter access to the polls. The Voting Section emphasized the importance of its monitoring of election-day activities and increased its monitoring of these activities. The Voting Section also (1) placed a greater priority on protecting the voting rights of language minority voters; (2) placed a priority on enforcing and preparing for compliance with the federal statute to help ensure voting rights of overseas voters; (3) provided additional training to Assistant U.S. Attorneys on civil rights statutes to educate them about voters' rights; and (4) provided guidance to states regarding the implementation of sections of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) that DOJ enforces. The Attorney General directed the Civil Rights Division to work with civil rights leaders, state and local election officials, and U.S. Attorney Offices prior to election day in an effort to help ensure that citizens' voting rights are protected. The Attorney General also directed the Criminal Division to work with these same groups in helping to preserve ballot integrity and prevent election offenses. According to Voting Section officials, DOJ plans to help ensure voter access for the upcoming November 2004 election include increasing its monitoring of elections, coordinating with civil rights organizations, and establishing procedures for bringing the concerns of civil rights organizations about specific issues or jurisdictions to DOJ on or before election day in November 2004. The Voting Section has used several means of tracking allegations of voting irregularities and the Section's actions with regard to those allegations. Actions that Voting Section attorneys took to address allegations of voting irregularities initiated from November 2000 to December 2003 included contacting cognizant election officials at the state and local levels; obtaining data as appropriate; interviewing voters affected by alleged voting irregularities; meeting with minority groups; and assessing the merits of the allegations to determine what, if any, further action was needed. Regarding internal controls, we found that the Voting Section did not have a reliable method to consistently record and document telephone calls received alleging voting irregularities. The Voting Section plans to take several actions to address voting irregularities for the November 2004 election, including, among other things, using a telephone log similar to the one used for the November 2002 election. In addition, we found that the Voting Section did not routinely track its election-monitoring activities through its Interactive Case Management (ICM) system. The Voting Section said that it has plans to assign one identification number to track these activities in the future. Lack of specifics about allegations and actions limits DOJ's ability to have accurate and clear information to share with the public or Congress about the types of allegations received and actions taken. If the Voting Section collects more precise information about voter allegations, it is in a better position to assure the public that it has addressed allegations of voting irregularities. Moreover, if it documents actions taken more precisely, it is better able to reassure the public and Congress of its commitment to enforce federal voting rights statutes.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To reassure citizens of the integrity of our election processes and to reassure the public and Congress of DOJ's commitment to its responsibility to enforce federal voting rights statutes, the Attorney General should direct the Chief of the Voting Section to develop and implement procedures for the November 2004 election to help ensure that the Voting Section has a reliable method of tracking and documenting allegations of voting irregularities and actions taken to address them. Procedures could include more precise categories to record types of allegations and actions taken; development of instructions on completing the telephone logs; and development and implementation of training for contractors, should they be needed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Prior to the November 2004 election, the Civil Rights Division established a new database system for call operators to record the information received from the public in a systematic way. The database system included a standardized log form to consistently capture information to identify the caller and categorize allegations in 13 subject codes for voting-related issues. The database also included a field to indicate an allegation that was referred to either an attorney in the section or a state or local official.

    Recommendation: To reassure citizens of the integrity of our election processes and to reassure the public and Congress of DOJ's commitment to its responsibility to enforce federal voting rights statutes, the Attorney General should direct the Chief of the Voting Section to implement a method to track and report on election-monitoring activities in the Interactive Case Management system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2004, we reported on the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Voting Section's activities to address past election-related voting irregularities, including the tracking of the Section's monitoring of election-day activities. We found that while the Voting Section emphasized the importance of its monitoring of election-day activities, the Section's monitoring program had not been routinely tracked in the Division's Interactive Case Management System (ICM). The report stated that because of the significance of this program, it warranted a more formal tracking of monitoring efforts and resources dedicated to the program to allow for reliable, relevant, and timely information for management decision making and for external reporting purposes. Accordingly, we recommended that the department establish a method to track and report on election monitoring activities within ICM. In July 2010, the department reported that the Voting Section's new election monitoring database (EMS), located in ORACLE, Version 10G, had been up and running since 2009. The department further noted that the Voting Section updates EMS as additional elections are monitored. By way of example, the department provided an EMS report for elections monitored from January 1, 2010, through June 30, 2010. In September 2009, we reported (GAO-09-938R) that the Interactive Case Management System was not sufficiently stable to add new fields to the system. Accordingly, DOJ's action to establish an electronic system to track its election monitoring efforts, although not within ICM, is an acceptable alternative and consistent with our 2004 recommendation.

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