Attorney General Merrick B. Garland tabled a detailed plan to protect voting rights on Friday, announcing that the Department of Justice would redouble its enforcement staff on the matter, review and act on new laws aimed at restricting voter access and take action take action if it detects a violation of federal law.
Mr. Garland announced his plan as Republican-led state lawmakers are pushing for new restrictive electoral laws and amid dwindling opportunities for comprehensive state voter protection laws introduced by the Democrats.
“To meet the challenge of the present moment, we must devote the Justice Department’s resources to a critical part of its original mission: enforcing federal laws protecting the right to vote for all eligible voters,” Garland said in an address to the department.
The Justice Department will also review current laws and practices to see if they discriminate against non-white voters, he said. It wasn’t clear how many people were working to enforce voting rights and what the total would be after the department increased its staffing levels.
At least 22 new laws making voting harder have been passed in more than a dozen states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a progressive public policy institute that is part of the New York University School of Law.
Mr Garland also said the department oversees the use of unorthodox by-election checks that could undermine confidence in the country’s ability to hold free and fair elections, adding that some jurisdictions have used disinformation to justify such checks.
“Much of the justifications used in support of these by-election reviews and electoral restrictions were based on allegations of material fraud in the 2020 elections that have been refuted by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, both this and the previous government, as well as any court – federal and state – which it took into account, ”Garland said.
The ministry’s civil rights division has sent a letter expressing concerns that any of these reviews may have violated the civil rights law, Garland said, in part because it could violate a provision of the law that prohibits voter intimidation . He didn’t state which state, but in Arizona, a week-long exam is widely viewed as a partisan exercise to cultivate complaints about Donald J. Trump’s electoral defeat.
The Department of Justice will publish guidelines explaining the civil and criminal law provisions that apply to by-election reviews, guidelines for early voting and voting by post, and will work with other agencies to combat disinformation.
The Democrats have sued over some new electoral laws, but this lawsuit could take years to settle and may have little power to prevent those laws from affecting the upcoming elections.
Two major federal election laws – the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act – are also the subject of heated debates in Congress.
Earlier this week, Senator Joe Manchin III, a Democrat of West Virginia, said he would oppose the For the People Act, which dashed hopes among progressives that the sweeping anti-voter suppression bill would become law.
Mr Garland has said protecting the right to vote is one of his top priorities as the attorney general, and his top lieutenants include senior proxies like Vanita Gupta, the No. 3 officer in the division, and Kristen Clarke, the civil rights division director.
Ms. Clarke’s long career as an attorney specializing in voting rights – including at N.A.A.C.P. The Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the New York Attorney General and the Lawyers ’Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – will make you a key figure in the work of the Justice Department to maintain access to voting.
That work is made more difficult, however, by a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that struck down portions of the electoral law that forced states with a legacy of racial discrimination to obtain the approval of the Department of Justice before they could change their electoral laws.