Attorney General Merrick Garland vows Justice Department ‘will not permit voters to be intimidated’ ahead of midterms


Washington
CNN

Attorney General Merrick Garland vowed Monday not to allow the US Justice Department to intimidate voters in November’s midterm elections.

“The Department of Justice has a responsibility to ensure free and fair voting by everyone eligible to vote and does not allow voter intimidation,” Garland said at a press conference.

More than 7 million ballots had already been cast in 39 states as of Monday, according to data from election officials, Edison Research and Catalyst. But with two weeks until Nov. 8, law enforcement agencies and officials are turning their attention to Election Day and the potential for violence amid reports of threats to poll workers and voter intimidation.

In Arizona, the secretary of state’s office has already referred six reports of potential voter intimidation near ballot drop boxes to law enforcement, along with reports of election worker harassment.

In one instance, cited by the Department of Justice and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, an unidentified voter was approached and followed by a group of men as he attempted to drop off his ballot in an early voting drop box. The group made accusations against the voter and his wife, took photos of him and his license plate and followed him out of the parking lot, the report said.

In another instance, two armed men — wearing tactical gear — broke into a ballot drop box in Mesa, Arizona, Friday night, according to Maricopa County officials. The pair left the scene when the county sheriff’s office arrived.

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“We are deeply concerned about the safety of individuals exercising their constitutional right to vote and lawfully taking their early ballot to a drop box,” Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates and Recorder Stephen Richer said in a joint statement. Saturday.

Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said Monday that the two armed men were not breaking the law, but condemned them for trying to “passively intimidate others who are trying to vote.”

Dozens of Republicans seeking to be elected governor, secretary of state or U.S. senator in 2022 have joined former President Donald Trump in rejecting or questioning the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s victory in 2020, with some seeking to overturn the 2020 results. Such unsubstantiated allegations of widespread election fraud have prompted restrictive new voting laws and increased security concerns around elections.

Last year, the Justice Department launched a task force to address the rise in threats against election officials, and election day security preparations are already well underway across the country.

In Colorado, for example, one state law — the Vote Without Fear Act — prohibits the carrying of firearms at polling places or within 100 feet of a ballot drop box. And in Tallahassee, Florida, officials added Kevlar and bullet-resistant acrylic shields to the Leon County elections office, said Mark Early, who runs the county’s elections.

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Samantha Winograd, the Homeland Security assistant secretary for terrorism, threat prevention and law enforcement, said Monday that the agency is “certainly focused on what we consider to be an incredibly heightened threat environment” ahead of the November election. He cited conspiracy theories circulating online and the history of extremist groups in the United States as reasons for concern.

“We know there is a historical basis for violence related to elections,” Winograd, a former CNN contributor, said while speaking at the 2022 Homeland Security Enterprise Forum. “At the same time, anyone who has a Twitter account or a Facebook account or watches the news knows that countless conspiracy theories continue to circulate with various narratives associated with false claims about the election.”

Amid the threat, DHS — and its Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, in particular — is working to protect the election security infrastructure, he said.

The FBI and sheriffs representing some of America’s largest counties, meanwhile, have discussed the possibility of misinformation fueling violence at polling stations during midterm elections, a sheriffs association representative told CNN.

Megan Noland, executive director of America’s major county sheriffs, which represents 113 of the largest, said a briefing last week focused on how law enforcement can balance the security needs of election officials without the risk of intimidating voters by being “powered” near polling stations. District Collector Offices of the country. Noland said recent surveillance by private citizens of ballot drop boxes was also discussed.

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Neil Kelly, a former elections official who presented at the briefing, told CNN that the potential for face-to-face ballot drop boxes is “something we need to watch.” The FBI declined to comment on the briefing.

The FBI, Kelly gave an overview of the threat environment facing election officials.

“The whole idea was to give [sheriffs] The idea of ​​how they can cooperate with their election officials is not happening nationwide, as Kelly, the former chief elections officer of Orange County, California, said of his presentation. Larger counties have some collaboration between police and election officials, while smaller ones often don’t, he said.

One idea discussed at the briefing was giving patrol officers a list of election criminal codes they could keep in their pockets when responding to any incidents on Election Day, Kelly told CNN.

“If you’re calling 9-1-1 on Election Day as an election official, it’s too late,” he said.

This story was updated with additional information on Monday.

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