The Biden Justice Department fired a warning shot Wednesday at the mostly Republican jurisdictions across the country currently conducting or considering undertaking post-election audits or recounts.
The DOJ issued new guidance on the federal laws that cover post-election audits, noting that the agency is “concerned” about state or local officials “using, or proposing to use, procedures that risk violating the Civil Rights Act.”
The warning comes two months after the agency raised concerns over the ongoing audit orchestrated by Arizona Senate Republicans in Maricopa County.
The Justice Department cited concerns that election records are not being properly safeguarded, according to federal law, because the audit is being performed by a private firm.
In an eight-page document, the DOJ says it “interprets the Civil Rights Act to require that covered elections records ‘be retained either physically by election officials themselves, or under their direct administrative supervision.’”
Allowing a third party to handle election documents could lead to “records being lost, stolen, altered, compromised or destroyed,” and the risk “is exacerbated if the election records are given to private actors who have neither experience nor expertise in handling such records and who are unfamiliar with the obligations imposed by federal law,” the document states.
An agency spokesperson said Wednesday the Justice Department wants to “make clear” the election record, retention and preservation obligations jurisdictions have under federal law.
The guidance is part of Attorney General Merrick Garland’s promise last month to scrutinize post-election audits “to ensure they abide by federal statutory requirements to protect election records and avoid the intimidation of voters.”
DOJ officials said Wednesday the department has doubled its voting rights enforcement staff and they are “keeping a close eye on what’s going on around the country” with audits.
Former President Donald Trump, who continues to claim without proof that the 2020 election was stolen through widespread voter fraud, has praised the Maricopa election review and urged other states to launch their own.
Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee launched a probe into the Arizona audit earlier this month.
In addition to the audit document, the DOJ also released a 13-page explainer on federal laws for voting methods.
Officials said voting by mail was the most common method used during the pandemic, which they said can be an “effective way” to ensure equal access to voting “given the various logistical difficulties that may preclude individuals from appearing at a polling place on Election Day.”
Last month, the DOJ sued the state of Georgia over its new election laws, which Mr. Garland says “were enacted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right of Black Georgians to vote on account of their race or color in violation of Section Two of the Voting Rights Act.”