Federal observers to watch Mississippi polls today

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 5, 1999

The U.S. Department of Justice is sending more federal polling observers to Mississippi today than it has to any other state in the last two years.Brad Pigott, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, said the Justice Department will bring in 158 federal observers to 57 polling places in 14 Mississippi counties for today1s primary elections.”The observers will help ensure that minority voters have a fair opportunity to cast their ballot,” Pigott said.Federal observers will be in the following counties in the following numbers: Amite (17); Chickasaw (19); Coahoma (17); Covington (10); Humphreys (13); Jones (4); Kemper (2); Leake (6); Marshall (17); Neshoba (6); Newton (2); Noxubee (8); Quitman (14); and Tunica (26).”We send observers to polling places all over the country,” said Christine DiBartolo, spokesperson for the Civil Rights Division of the U. S. Department of Justice. “We do standard pre-election investigation all over the country to determine if observers are warranted.”DiBartolo would not comment on specific evidence to warrant such a large contingent of observers for this primary.”Because we have an investigation ongoing, I cannot speak to specifics of that investigation,” she said.Assistant U.S. Attorney Carlton W. Reeves will supervise a team of assistant U.S. attorneys and special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation today while the polls are open.They will be on duty to investigate any citizens complaints concerning violations of the Voting Rights Act.”We want to ensure that citizens are not denied participation because of their race, national origin, or because they cannot effectively communicate in English,” Reeves said. “While violations of the federal voting rights laws can take on many forms, some violations are more obvious than others. For example, there is no basis for poll watchers or officials to be abusive to voters on account of their race, to use racial slurs to embarrass minority voters who need assistance in marking their ballots or who rely on a language other than English, or to deny minority voters courtesies and assistance which are available to white voters.”The U.S. Attorneys Office and the FBI depend upon information from citizens to detect and deter election fraud.”The detection of election fraud depends in large part on the watchfulness and cooperation of Mississippians. It is imperative that those who have been asked to participate in questionable election practices, or who have observed or have information regarding such practices make that information available immediately to my office or to the FBI,” Pigott said.

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