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 that the U.S. Justice Department “will not allow voter intimidation” in November’s midterm elections.

“The Department of Justice must ensure a free and fair vote for all eligible voters and will not allow voter intimidation,” Garland said at a news conference.

More than 7 million ballots had already been cast in 39 states on Monday, according to data from election officials, Edison Research and Catalyst. But with two weeks to go before Nov. 8, law enforcement agencies and officials are paying attention to Election Day and the potential threat of violence against election workers and reports of voter intimidation.

In one case in Arizona, which was referred to the Department of Justice and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, an unidentified voter reported being approached and followed by a group of individuals while attempting to drop off their ballot at an early voting box. According to the report, the group charged the voter and their wife, took pictures of them and their license plate, and chased them out of the parking lot.

In another incident, Maricopa County officials said two gunmen dressed in tactical gear were seen outside a voting booth in Mesa, Arizona, on Friday night. The couple left the scene when the county sheriff’s office arrived.

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“We are deeply concerned about the safety of individuals who exercise their constitutional right to vote and who legally drop off their early ballot,” Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates and Recorder Stephen Richer said in a joint statement. saturday

Dozens of Republicans running for governor, secretary of state or U.S. senator in 2022 have joined former President Donald Trump in dismissing President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory as unjustified or questioning its legitimacy, and some have tried to overturn the 2020 results. Such unsubstantiated allegations of widespread election fraud have inspired a series of new restrictive voting laws and raised concerns about election security.

Last year, the Department of Justice established a task force to address the growing threat to election officials, and security preparations are already underway across the country for Election Day.

For example, Colorado’s state law, the Voting Without Fear Act, prohibits the carrying of firearms at polling places or within 100 feet of a ballot box. And in Tallahassee, Florida, officials have added Kevlar and bulletproof acrylic shields to the Leon County elections office, said Mark Earley, the county’s director of elections.

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Samantha Vinograd, the Department of Homeland Security’s assistant secretary for counterterrorism, threat prevention and law enforcement, said Monday that the agency is “certainly very focused on what we believe is an incredibly heightened threat environment” ahead of the November election. She cited internet conspiracy theories and the history of extremist groups in the US as concerns.

“We know there’s a historical basis for election-related violence,” Vinograd, a former CNN contributor, said during the 2022 campaign. Homeland Security Enterprise Forum. “At the same time, anyone with a Twitter or Facebook account, or who watches the news, knows that countless conspiracy theories continue to circulate with various narratives surrounding false claims about the election.”

In the face of threats, she said, DHS — and specifically its Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency — is working to protect election security infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the FBI and sheriffs representing some of America’s largest counties have discussed the possibility of disinformation fueling violence at the polls during the midterm elections, a sheriffs association spokesman told CNN.

Last week’s briefing focused on how law enforcement can balance supporting the security needs of election officials without risking voter intimidation by being near polling places, said Megan Noland, executive director of America’s Largest County Sheriffs, which represents the 113 largest counties. sheriff’s offices in the country. Recent ballot box surveillance by private citizens was also discussed, Noland said.

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Former elections official Neal Kelley, who also spoke at the briefing, told CNN that potential confrontations at the polls “are something we have to watch.” The FBI declined to comment on the briefing.

The FBI, Kelley said, has reviewed the threat environment facing election officials.

“The whole idea was to give [sheriffs] the idea of ​​how they can work with their election officials because there’s not much of that happening across the country,” Kelley, a former chief elections officer in Orange County, California, said of his presentation. In large counties, police and election officials cooperate, while smaller counties often don’t, he said.

Kelley told CNN that one idea discussed during the briefing was to give patrol officers a list of election criminal codes to keep in their pocket when responding to any incidents on Election Day.

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

This story was updated Monday with additional information.

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