Attorney General Merrick Garland lays out the specific steps the Department of Justice will take to ensure voting rights are protected.

On Friday, Attorney General Merrick Garland gave a policy address on voting rights and the steps the Department of Justice will be taking to secure the fundamental right to vote for all Americans. 

The Attorney General began his speech by discussing previous voting rights bills throughout history in America. “The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, the right from which all other rights ultimately flow,” stated Garland. 

This speech comes amid the battle to pass the For the People Act, which Senator Manchin does not support, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which Senator McConnel finds “unnecessary.”

So far this year, at least 14 states have passed new laws that make it harder for individuals to vote. Some jurisdictions, based on disinformation, have utilized abnormal post-election audit methodologies that may put the “integrity of the voting process at risk and undermine public confidence in our democracy,” said Garland. 

The Civil Rights Division has sent a letter expressing its concern that one of those audits may violate provisions of the Civil Rights Act, which requires election officials to safeguard federal election record records. 

The Division also expressed concern that the audit may violate a provision of the Voting Rights Act that bars intimidation of voters. 

“The Justice Department will do everything in its power to prevent election fraud, and if found to vigorously prosecuted, but many of the justifications proffered in support of these post-election audits, and restrictions on voting, have relied on assertions of material vote fraud in the 2020 election, which have been refuted by law enforcement and intelligence agencies of Biden administration and the previous one, as well as by every court, federal and state that has considered them,” expressed Garland. 

Many of the changes are not calibrated to address the kinds of voter fraud that are alleged, as their justification. Garland states, “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 for all voters.” 

Garland announced that the Department will use all existing provisions and the Voting Rights Act, the National Voter Registration Act, the Help America Vote Act, and The Uniform and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act to ensure that qualified Americans seeking to participate in a democracy are protected. 

The DOJ is “scrutinizing” new laws that seek to curb voter access. “Where we see violations, we will not hesitate to act.” The Department is also “scrutinizing” current laws and practices in order to determine whether they discriminate against black voters and voters of color. 

Garland noted the “particularly concerning” a number of studies that show that in some jurisdictions, non-white voters have to wait in line ‘substantially’ longer than white voters to cast their ballots. The Department will apply scrutiny to post-election audits to ensure they abide by federal statutory requirements to protect election records and avoid the intimidation of voters. 

The DOJ will publish guidance explaining the civil and criminal statutes that apply to post-election audits. “We will likewise publish guidance with respect to early voting and voting by mail. And because the upcoming redistricting cycle will likely be the first since 1960, to proceed without the key preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act. We will publish new guidance to make clear the voting protections and apply to all jurisdictions as they redraw their legislative maps,” stated the Attorney General. 

Under the supervision of the deputy and associate attorneys general, the Department will implement its responsibility under presidential executive order 14019, promoting access to voting. Those include ensuring access to voter registration for eligible individuals in federal custody. They also include assisting other federal agencies and expanding voter registration opportunities, as permitted by law. Garland notes that the Department will also work with Congress to provide all necessary support to protect voting rights. 

“As the President has said, we need Congress to pass as one and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would provide the department with the tools it needs,” AG added.

The DOJ will partner with other federal agencies to combat election disinformation that intentionally tries to suppress the vote. 

Garland made clear that the Department has not been ‘blind to the increase in menacing and violent threats’ against all state and local election workers, ranging from the highest administrators to volunteer poll workers. “Such threats undermine our electoral process and violate a myriad of federal laws,” stated the Attorney General. 

He announced the criminal section of the Civil Rights Division, together with the Department’s National Security and criminal divisions, the 93 United States Attorney’s, and the FBI will investigate and prosecute any violations of federal law. 

“We know that expanding the ability of all eligible citizens to vote is a central pillar. That means ensuring that all eligible voters can cast a vote, that all lawful votes are counted, and that every voter has access to accurate information.”

At the end of his speech, Garland stated a quote that the late John Lewis recalled as an important lesson taught by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right. You must say something you must do so. Democracy is not a state, it is an act, and each generation must do its part.” 

Garland concluded, “The Department of Justice will always stand up to ensure the survival of the central pillar of our democracy.”

Jaala Brown

Jaala Brown is Gen Z Voice at The Pavlovic Today.