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The Justice Department fired a fresh round of warning shots at Republican-led state voting laws and GOP-led 2020 election audits on Wednesday.
With the release of two new federal guidance memos, Attorney General Merrick Garland made it abundantly clear he's not easing the pressure after he filed a high-profile lawsuit against Georgia last month and threatened action against the Arizona Senate's controversial audit of the Maricopa County election ahead of its release of a report expected later this summer.
The Justice Department said Wednesday that its two “guidance documents” would help “ensure states fully comply with federal laws regarding elections” and pointed specifically to “federal statutes affecting methods of voting” and “federal constraints” related to post-election “audits” — which it repeatedly put in quotes. This comes after President Joe Biden gave a misleading speech in July likening the election changes in some GOP-controlled states to a “21st century Jim Crow assault” on democracy.
“The right of all eligible citizens to vote is the central pillar of our democracy, and the Justice Department will use all of the authorities at its disposal to zealously guard that right,” Garland said Wednesday. “The guidances issued today describe certain federal laws that help ensure free, fair, and secure elections. Where violations of such laws occur, the Justice Department will not hesitate to act.”
The first memo contends the Justice Department will scrutinize states that returned some voting laws to what they were before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Department’s enforcement policy does not consider a jurisdiction’s re-adoption of prior voting laws or procedures to be presumptively lawful; instead, the Department will review a jurisdiction’s changes in voting laws or procedures for compliance with all federal laws regarding elections, as the facts and circumstances warrant," the document said.
“Since the 2020 election, some States have responded by permanently adopting their COVID-19 modifications; by contrast, other States have barred continued use of those practices or have imposed additional restrictions on voting by mail or early voting," DOJ said. "In view of these developments, guidance concerning federal statutes affecting methods of voting is appropriate.”
A DOJ official referenced the Georgia lawsuit while speaking to reporters on Wednesday.
“We didn’t want to sort of give jurisdictions or think jurisdictions should have a safe harbor to say, ‘Well, because we ran our voting system this way before the pandemic, we’re free to go back to that, even if going back to that has a racially discriminatory impact.’ … You should not assume that if you abandon practices that have made it easier for people to vote, that abandonment is not going to get scrutiny from the Department of Justice," the official said.
The Justice Department announced a lawsuit against Georgia in June over its new election laws, with Garland claiming the voter laws were written to restrict the voting rights of black Georgians. Georgia officials have defended the measures as commonsense protections against fraud and have condemned claims from Biden that they are “Jim Crow 2.0.”
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told the Washington Examiner in June that he believed the Biden administration will fail in its efforts to challenge Georgia’s election laws.
“It’s absolutely partisan,” Raffensperger said. “We’re very confident that we will prevail against this progressive wing of the Department of Justice.”
Raffensperger argued the need to restore faith in his state’s election system began long before former President Donald Trump’s claims of a stolen election in 2020, saying it dated back to the 2018 gubernatorial race. In that contest, Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams refused to acknowledge that now-Gov. Brian Kemp defeated her fairly, claiming he only won by suppressing votes.
“Stacey Abrams did not concede defeat in 2018, and that damaged the confidence in elections on their side of the aisle,” Raffensperger said. “[In] 2020 — the same thing happened on the other side of the aisle.”
Kemp also condemned DOJ's actions last month.
“This lawsuit is born out of the lies and misinformation the Biden administration has pushed against Georgia’s Election Integrity Act from the start," Kemp said. “Joe Biden, Stacey Abrams, and their allies tried to force an unconstitutional elections power grab through Congress — and failed. Now, they are weaponizing the U.S. Department of Justice to carry out their far-left agenda that undermines election integrity and empowers federal government overreach in our democracy.”
On Wednesday, the Justice Department referenced a November statement from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and other election agencies, which stated that the November 2020 election “was the most secure in American history.” Former Attorney General William Barr said in December that “we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election.”
Biden defeated Trump 306-232 in the Electoral College.
The second new DOJ memo focused on partisan audits. One is wrapping up in Maricopa County, but the reviews, which have been heavily criticized as political and undertaken by unaccredited third-party groups, could soon begin in earnest in other states, including Pennsylvania.
“In recent months, in a number of jurisdictions around the United States, an unusual second round of examinations have been conducted or proposed. These examinations would look at certain ballots, election records, and election systems used to conduct elections in 2020. These examinations, sometimes referred to as ‘audits,’ are governed, in the first instance, by state law. In some circumstances, the proposed examinations may comply with state law; in others, they will not," the memo stated.
“In many jurisdictions, there were automatic recounts or canvasses pursuant to state law due to the closeness of the election results. None of those state law recounts produced evidence of either wrongdoing or mistakes that casts any doubt on the outcome of the national election results.”
The memo added that the DOJ is “committed to ensuring full compliance with all federal laws regarding elections," the Justice Department added.
Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela Karlan sent a letter to Arizona Senate President Karen Fann in May “regarding issues arising under federal statutes enforced by the United States Department of Justice that are related to the audit required by the Arizona State Senate for the November 2020 federal general election in Maricopa County."
Fann said in a response letter the GOP-led Legislature tabled its plans to send canvassers to homes to inquire about voter participation in the 2020 general election after the Justice Department said the efforts might constitute voter intimidation. Still, members of the auditing team recently encouraged the state Senate to proceed with the canvas to "know for sure whether the data we’re seeing are real problems."
The Arizona Senate issued fresh subpoenas this week to Maricopa County officials and Dominion Voting Systems, both of which have signaled they intend to fight the requests and asked for documents from Katie Hobbs, Arizona's Democratic secretary of state, related to the GOP-led chamber's audit.
Georgia conducted recounts which affirmed Biden’s win in the state, and some efforts related to examining the results of the 2020 election have continued. A GOP lawmaker in Pennsylvania asked some counties in the state to provide information and materials for an Arizona-style audit. Republicans in places such as Florida and Wisconsin have also called for similar reviews.
“I think the reason we’re issuing this as guidance is to tell jurisdictions generally that we are concerned that if they’re going to conduct these audits — so-called audits of these past elections — they have to comply with federal law, and warning them that they can’t conduct these audits in a way that is going to intimidate voters … And in addition to the issue of the intimidation of voters, our department is concerned with intimidation and threats against election officials," a DOJ official told reporters on Wednesday.
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Original Author: Jerry Dunleavy