The department said the monitors will ensure that the state complies with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which makes sure changes to election laws don’t have racist or discriminatory effects.
Maricopa County’s recorder and a spokesman for the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office said the Justice Department frequently sends federal monitors for Arizona elections and that the move doesn’t concern them.
But Bruce Merrill, senior fellow at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, said he suspects that the Justice Department’s move is taking a stand against alleged racial profiling by Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office.
“They are trying to make a statement about their concerns,” Merrill said. “They are obviously not doing this everywhere.”
Numerous lawsuits have been filed against Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office claiming racial profiling.
Matthew Roberts, communications director for the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office, said it isn’t unusual that the Justice Department would send in election monitors and that he expected that everything would go smoothly Tuesday.
“They monitor any elections they want to monitor,” he said.
The Justice Department has the authority to monitor election activities in states that fall under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires states that have a history of racial discrimination to receive approval from the Justice Department before changing to election laws.
Arizona’s voter ID law, which is a part of Proposition 200, passed in 2004, requires voters to show proof of citizenship when registering to vote using a state form. In April, a federal appeals court ruled the state couldn’t require proof of citizenship for people registering to vote using a federal form.
Supporters of voter ID laws say they help prevent voter fraud, while critics contend they suppress minority votes.
Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell said it’s possible the change to Arizona election law is why the Justice Department is sending election monitors.
“Whether the federal court and Supreme Court’s decision recently has made a difference, I’m sure it has,” Purcell said.
A press assistant for the Justice Department responded via email that the department couldn’t comment beyond the news release.
The Justice Department also said it was sending monitors to three counties in Alabama, a state that has passed an immigration law similar to Arizona’s SB 1070.