Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on Friday that the Department of Justice would expand its resources to protect voting rights and focus its attention on ongoing efforts to discredit the 2020 election results. The move comes as President Donald Trump’s Big Lie continues to fuel calls for recounts in states he definitively lost and the GOP pushes to dramatically restrict access to the ballot in state legislatures across the country.
“To meet the challenge of the current moment, we must rededicate the resources of the Department of Justice to a critical part of its original mission: Enforcing federal law to protect the franchise of all eligible voters,” Garland said Friday as he announced plans to double the number of DOJ officials tasked with protecting voting rights.
Republicans nationwide have taken a sledgehammer to Americans’ access to the vote in the wake of Trump’s loss, putting forth so-called “election security” bills aimed at mail-in voting and other measures that make it easier for people to cast ballots. This year, for example, Republican legislators have introduced hundreds of bills proposing restrictions such as limiting early-voting hours and even prohibiting the distribution of food and drink to voters waiting in line. Democrats have argued such obstacles will likely hurt turnout. The latest analysis of state voting laws by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law found that 14 states have passed 24 laws restricting voting access, a tally likely to rise given that “dozens of other restrictive bills are still pending across another 18 states,” the Atlantic reports.
Garland said the Justice Department’s expanded team of trial attorneys will examine the myriad new restrictive voting measures passed across the country. They will pay particular attention to possible discrimination against people of color and enforcing provisions of the Voting Rights Act, according to the Washington Post. “Where we see violations, we will not hesitate to act,” Garland vowed.
In addition to combating GOP-led voter suppression efforts—which civil rights groups and Democrats have called on President Joe Biden’s administration to take a harder line against—Garland also said the voting rights unit would keep a watchful eye on post-election ballot reviews, which pro-Trump Republicans have been conducting in an attempt to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 election. Election audits are intended to ensure that votes were counted accurately or appropriate election procedures were followed, or both, and can include methods such as hand recounts and scrutinizing voter signatures on absentee ballot envelopes. Garland’s new priority reflects the extent to which Trump’s false election fraud claims continue to threaten democracy.
One such blatantly partisan effort is taking place in Arizona’s largest county, Maricopa, which narrowly went to Biden in November. A company with no experience auditing elections and which is run by a pro-Trump election fraud conspiracy theorist is conducting the audit, CNN reports. There’s also a lack of grounds for such a review: County election officials already conducted two audits and found no evidence of widespread voter fraud and other issues alleged by Trump. The opaque and seemingly disorganized audit procedures have sparked transparency concerns among election experts.
Rep. Liz Cheney, the Wyoming lawmaker who was recently ousted as House GOP conference chair for not going along with Trump’s lies, amplified those concerns last week. She decried the effort in Arizona as “an effort to subvert democracy.” Rep. Adam Kinzinger, another anti-Trump Republican, echoed Cheney’s stance in a subsequent tweet.
As my colleague Eric Lutz noted last month, the absurd effort in Arizona has offered a kind of blueprint for other GOP-led legislatures. CNN reports that reviews of the 2020 election are currently underway in Georgia and New Hampshire. Pennsylvania may be next, but the GOP there is split. Some of the state’s Republican lawmakers recently toured the Arizona audit site, while others shot down the prospect of such an audit. “I don’t know why you would want to repeat what’s going on in Arizona anyplace across the country,” said Al Schmidt, Philadelphia city commissioner.
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