WASHINGTON (AP) – The Justice Department will consider a wave of new laws in Republican-controlled states that tighten voting rules, Attorney General Merrick Garland said on Friday, vowing to take action if the law is violated federal.
He announced plans to double the size of the department’s civil rights division and said the department would send advice to states on election-related activities, including postal voting and post-election audits. He also pledged to investigate and prosecute those who threaten election workers, noting an increase in such cases.
“There is a lot open for debate in America, but the right of all eligible citizens to vote is not one of them,” Garland said in his first direct response to restrictive voting laws passed in more than one country. dozen states where Republicans control the legislature and governor’s office.
Speaking to staff in the agency’s civil rights division, he said Justice Department resources needed to be reallocated to “meet the challenge of the present moment.”
His message was clear: the department does not intend to stay on the sidelines of the electoral battles that have erupted in state houses across the country. In addition to reviewing the state’s new laws, Garland said the department will also review existing laws for their potential to discriminate against minority voters.
He also reiterated the administration’s support for two proposals pushed by Congressional Democrats that would create minimum federal standards for voting and restore his agency’s ability to review changes to state election laws in places with high impact. history of racial discrimination. A 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling effectively overturned this “preclearance” requirement, and Democrats say it has led to a proliferation of restrictive voting laws in recent years.
Garland said bogus allegations of voter fraud were being used to justify the new voting restrictions despite law enforcement and intelligence agencies refuting the allegations. He expressed concern that misinformation surrounding the 2020 election was fueling “anomalous post-election audit methods” to conduct partisan ballot reviews, such as the one underway in Arizona.
Seven months after the election, former President Donald Trump continues to falsely insist on his victory and demand that states investigate his unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud. These claims were categorically rejected by state officials who certified the results, judges who dismissed several lawsuits brought by Trump and his allies, and a coalition of federal and state officials who called the 2020 election ” most secure ”in the history of the United States.
Trump’s own attorney general said at the time that there was no evidence of widespread fraud that would change the outcome.
But lawmakers in the Republican states of Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Texas and elsewhere have taken hold of Trump’s claims, pointing to the concerns of his supporters as justification for a wave. new bills strengthening the voting rules. As of mid-May, 22 restrictive laws had been passed in at least 14 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which studies voting and supports expanded access.
Texas Republicans are expected to call for a special session to pass an electoral overhaul that was derailed by Democrats on the last day of the regular session.
Republicans who support the new laws said action was needed to protect the vote and restore public confidence in the election.
“Americans have been clear – they support laws that make it easier to vote and make fraud difficult in states across the country,” said Jessica Anderson, executive director of Heritage Action, which is working to push forward legislative proposals. “Despite the false narrative coming out of the White House and now the Justice Department, Americans support safe and fair elections, even if the left does not. “
Voting groups have already filed several lawsuits challenging the laws.
Garland’s comments come as the Justice Department shifts its priorities to focus more on civil rights issues and ensure equal protection under the law after four tumultuous years in the Trump administration.
Along with tightening voting rules, Republicans have also pushed for action to expand the role of poll watchers, following complaints that their monitors did not have adequate access in the 2020 election. The new law allows each candidate to have an observer present at canvassing council meetings, which has raised concerns about overcrowding and slower counting of ballots.
In a bill that ultimately failed but is expected to be revived in a special legislative session, Republicans in Texas have imposed new general criminal penalties for election workers that hamper election observers.
Trump’s claims also led Republican senators in Arizona to use their subpoena power and initiate a partisan review of the 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County. The audit will not change the outcome of the election, which was certified by the state’s Republican governor after several reviews, a standard procedure after every election. But Trump has requested more reviews in other states he has lost, including Georgia and Pennsylvania.
The Justice Department sent a letter expressing concern about the Arizona review, and Garland pledged that his department would ensure any post-election review complies with federal law to “protect election records and avoid voter intimidation “.
Election experts pointed to major flaws in the process unfolding in Arizona and said the Republican effort could further erode confidence in the Democratic process.
Cassidy reported from Atlanta.