The Public Asks: Has DOJ deployed election monitors to Alamance County?

QUESTION: Has the U.S. Justice Department sent poll watchers to Alamance County to keep an eye on Tuesday’s election?

ANSWER: It appears that the federal government did have at least one set of boots on the ground during Tuesday’s general election in Alamance County.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Alamance County is one of 64 jurisdictions in 24 states where its Civil Rights Division had dispatched monitors to watch for possible voting rights violations during this year’s election.

In a news release issued on Monday, the Justice Department also identified Mecklenburg, Columbus, Harnett, and Wayne counties as four other destinations for these monitors in North Carolina.

Dawn Hurdle, Alamance County’s elections director, conceded that she and her staff were notified about Alamance County’s place in this roster a few days ahead of the big vote on Tuesday.

“We were notified last week that the DOJ will be in our county,” Hurdle explained in an interview Tuesday. “It’s just one lady, and she will be here to observe and ask questions of voters.”

The county’s elections director said that this solo observer could potentially show up at any of the county’s voting precincts but would remain outside the 50-foot zone where campaigning is strictly prohibited.

Hurdle nevertheless pleaded her ignorance when asked why exactly Alamance County had been chosen to play host to this legate from the federal government.

According to the Justice Department, its Civil Rights Division “has regularly monitored” elections “in the field” to ensure compliance with the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The federal agency notes that these monitors are pulled from either a U.S. Attorney’s office or the Civil Rights Division’s own personnel. It also acknowledges that the Office of Personnel Management can send out its own election monitors in response to a federal court order.

Yet, the Justice Department never spells out the precise criteria it uses to determine where these individuals are ultimately sent to observe and report.

In years past, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division had its sights trained on Alamance County due to suspicions that the local sheriff’s department had been selectively targeting Latino drivers for traffic stops and arrests. These allegations were especially prolific in 2010, when Alamance County’s Republican sheriff Terry Johnson fought off a determined electoral challenge from his former subordinate Ron Parrish, a Democrat who has gone on to serve as Gibsonville’s chief of police.

That race was, incidentally, the last time that Johnson faced any electoral opposition until this year, when the Democrats fielded first time candidate Kelly T. White against the long-time Republican incumbent.

The Civil Rights Division would eventually parlay many of the allegations from 2010 into a federal anti-discrimination case that it pursued against Johnson. A federal judge ultimately dismissed the agency’s claims in 2015, although it took several more years for the Justice Department to settle its differences with Johnson.