In the aftermath of the 2020 election, Republican lawmakers in a number of states moved to enact election reform measures meant to protect ballot integrity and guard against potential fraud. Other states have considered or conducted audits of the 2020 race in hopes of rooting out possible irregularities. In both cases, however, Democrats are crying foul.
Now, President Joe Biden’s Justice Department is taking action, warning of increased scrutiny on — and potential consequences for — states that move forward with audits or post-race changes to election laws, according to NPR.
The memos reportedly outline how such audits could violate federal laws and, with regard to process reform measures, warn that rolling back COVID-related changes to election procedures shouldn’t be presumed lawful.
“They have to comply”
In one memo published Wednesday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) reportedly insisted that any audits conducted at the state or local level need to comply with constraints imposed by federal election laws like the Civil Rights Act (CRA) of 1960 and Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965.
Specifically, the DOJ keyed in on how audits by independent third parties could run afoul of the CRA’s stipulation that election officials “retain and preserve” any and all “federal election records” for at least 22 months after an election in case the DOJ opts to investigate potential irregularities.
The memo also warned that such audits, as well as potential actions by the independent auditors, could violate the CRA’s prohibition on any sort of activity that attempts to “intimidate, threaten, or coerce” individual voters or election officials for any reason.
“We are keeping a close eye on what’s going on around the country,” one DOJ official told NPR.
“If they’re going to conduct these so-called audits, they have to comply with federal law,” the official added.
In another memo, the DOJ warned against states returning to election procedures that were in place pre-COVID.
“The Department’s enforcement policy does not consider a jurisdiction’s re-adoption of prior voting laws or procedures to be presumptively lawful,” the memo said, according to the New York Post. “[I]nstead, 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.”
Speaking with NPR, the unnamed DOJ official made the department’s goal clear: “You should not assume if you abandon the practices that have made it easier for people to vote, that abandonment is not going to get scrutiny from the Department of Justice.”
Only time will tell if the Biden administration follows through on these not-so-subtle threats.