Justice Department task force to investigate ‘menacing threats’ against election workers

DOJ and FBI initiative follows reports that one in three election workers feel unsafe in their jobs

Alex Woodward
New York
Friday 25 June 2021 18:36 BST
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Justice Department to challenge Georgia voting restrictions

The US Department of Justice will launch a task force to investigate “menacing and violent threats” against generally nonpartisan officials and volunteers who help run the nation’s elections following an exodus of election workers and “alarming” reports of widespread threats stemming from election lies and right-wing disinformation.

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the initiative in tandem with the federal government’s lawsuit challenging Georgia’s far-reaching law that undermines voting rights in the state, among the first major voter suppression cases under Joe Biden’s administration after nearly 400 restrictive voting laws were proposed in nearly every state this year.

Justice Department officials in the agency’s civil rights and criminal divisions will work with the FBI to probe and prosecute threats, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco announced on 25 June.

“The Department of Justice has a long history of protecting every American’s right to vote, and will continue to do so,” she said in a Justice Department memo. “To that end, we must also work tirelessly to protect all election workers – whether they be elected officials, appointed officials, or those who volunteer their time – against the threats they face.”

Republican lawmakers have turned the administrative task of running the nation’s elections into a hostile political minefield, while Donald Trump continues his assault on the electoral process, which he continues to call a “hoax” and “corrupt” as he did before a single ballot was cast in 2020 elections.

Dozens of GOP-backed proposals in state legislatures across the US would strip election oversight from nonpartisan election administrators and give it to Republican-dominated state legislatures.

Several other measures – like laws passed Florida and Iowa – impose heavy fines against elections officials for technical infractions or making ballot drop-boxes accessible outside early voting hours.

Heightened partisan interference and increased pressure from GOP-backed campaigns to put their thumbs on the electoral scale could also have long-term impacts among elections agencies, as nearly 35 per cent of local election officials in 2020 were eligible for retirement by the 2024 election, according to a report from Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law and the Bipartisan Policy Center.

That report also revealed that one in three election workers feel unsafe because of their jobs, and one in six workers have faced threats as they help run the nation’s elections.

“All of this represents a mortal danger to American democracy, which cannot survive without public servants who can freely and fairly run our elections,” the report says. “We must ensure that they feel not only safe but also supported and appreciated for their vital efforts.”

The heightened scrutiny over election laws and violations of the Voting Rights Act follows the attorney general’s pledge to review new GOP laws, and as the president promises that his administration’s fight to pass federal voting rights legislation is not over, despite a Republican blockade in the Senate.

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