The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Responding to thousands of complaints of voting rights abuses in the last election, Attorney General John Ashcroft said yesterday he will strengthen enforcement and monitoring of voting laws and send more federal monitors into states to review elections.
"We will take action if we find evidence of any American being excluded from polling places," Ashcroft said at a news conference. "The Justice Department will investigate and, as appropriate, prosecute vigorously."
Ashcroft said he was directing the voting rights section of the department's civil rights division to devote greater resources to election monitors and observers. He said he would not limit the reviews to states and areas, mostly in the South, now covered under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
This week, for example, the Justice Department sent monitors to St. Louis, in Ashcroft's home state, which is not a covered area but where there had been complaints from voters.
A senior lawyer will be assigned to oversee enforcement and prevention efforts in the voting section, Ashcroft said.
In addition, eight attorneys will be added to the voting rights section, where there are currently 36. Ashcroft said he will ask for a bigger budget next year to hire even more attorneys.