The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) is one of the most successful civil rights laws ever enacted. Following its passage, the promise of the Fifteenth Amendment has become a reality for millions of Americans. Black voters in the South register to vote without being subjected to discriminatory tests or devices. Minority citizens can cast ballots free of intimidation and violence. Barriers posed by English-only elections have been removed for many language minority voters. Voters are permitted to receive assistance from the person of their choice. Federal observers play an indispensable role in serving as the eyes and ears of the Federal Government and the public it protects to ensure compliance with the Act. This Article explores the role of federal observers under the recently reauthorized VRA. It describes the federal observer provisions, including the role of observers, where they are deployed, how they are trained, and the ways in which their reports are used. It outlines steps that have been taken to ensure the provisions are constitutional by allowing observers to observe all steps of the voting process while preserving ballot secrecy. It explains why federal observers must be kept neutral and free from partisanship. It concludes with a discussion of the substantial role that federal observers played in securing the voting rights for limited-English proficient Spanish-speaking voters in Passaic County, New Jersey, in the face of widespread disenfranchisement. By preventing discrimination, enforcing the VRA, and measuring progress of non-compliant jurisdictions, federal observers help "secure equal voting rights of all citizens."
James T. Tucker,
The Power of Observation: The Role of Federal Observers Under the Voting Rights Act,
Mich. J. Race & L.
Available at: https://repository.law.umich.edu/mjrl/vol13/iss1/6