Attorney General Merrick Garland promises the Justice Department ‘will not allow voters to be intimidated’ before midterm


Washington
CNN

Attorney General Merrick Garland promised on Monday that the US Justice Department “will not allow voters to be intimidated” in November’s midterm elections.

“The Department of Justice has an obligation to ensure a free and fair vote of all who are qualified to vote and will not allow voters to be intimidated,” Garland said at a press briefing.

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

In Arizona, the secretary of state’s office has already referred six reports of potential voter intimidation near ballot boxes to law enforcement, as well as one report of harassment of election workers.

In one case, which was referred to the Arizona Department of Justice and Attorney General’s Office, an unidentified voter reported that he was approached and followed by a group of individuals as he attempted to deposit their ballot in an early voting drop box. The group laid charges against the voter and their wife, took photos of them and their license plates and followed them out of the parking lot, according to the report.

In another case, two armed individuals — dressed in tactical gear — were spotted at an urn in Mesa, Ariz., on Friday evening, according to Maricopa County officials. The couple left the scene when the county sheriff’s office arrived.

“We are deeply concerned about the safety of people exercising their constitutional right to vote and legally casting their early ballot in a ballot box,” said Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates and recorder Stephen Richer in a joint statement on Saturday.

Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said Monday that the two armed individuals were not breaking the law, but condemned people who try to “passively intimidate others by simply trying to vote.”

Dozens of Republicans seeking election in 2022 as Governor, Secretary of State or US Senator have joined former President Donald Trump in dismissing or baselessly questioning President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory, some having tried to overturn the 2020 results. These unsubstantiated allegations of widespread voter fraud have inspired a slew of restrictive new election laws and raised growing security concerns around the election.

Last year, the Justice Department launched a task force to deal with rising threats against election officials, and security preparations are already well advanced for Election Day across the country.

In Colorado, for example, a state law – the Vote Without Fear Act – prohibits the carrying of firearms at polling stations or within 100 feet of a ballot box. And in Tallahassee, Fla., officials added Kevlar and bullet-resistant acrylic shields to the Leon County Elections Office, said Mark Earley, who leads elections in the county.

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 see as an environment. incredibly heightened threat” ahead of the November election. She cited conspiracy theories swirling online and the history of extremist groups in the United States as cause for concern.

“We know there is a historical basis for violence associated with elections,” Vinograd, a former CNN contributor, said during a speech at the 2022 Homeland Security Enterprise Forum. “At the same time, anyone with a Twitter account or Facebook account, or anyone watching the news, is aware that a myriad of conspiracy theories continue to proliferate with various narratives associated with false claims about the election.”

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

The FBI and sheriffs representing some of the largest U.S. counties, meanwhile, have discussed the possibility of misinformation fueling polling place violence in the midterm elections, a representative from a sheriffs association.

Last week’s briefing outlined how law enforcement can balance supporting the security needs of election officials without risking intimidating voters by being “out in force” near polling places, Megan Noland said. executive director of the Major County Sheriffs of America, which represents the 113 largest sheriff’s offices nationwide. Recent private citizen surveillance of ballot boxes was also discussed, Noland said.

Neal Kelley, a former election official who also presented at the briefing, told CNN the potential for showdowns at the polls “is something we need to watch out for.” The FBI declined to comment on the briefing.

The FBI, Kelley said, provided insight into the threat environment facing election officials.

“The idea was to give [sheriffs] an idea of ​​how they can collaborate with their election officials because there’s not a lot going on nationally,” Kelley, the former Orange County election official, said in a statement. California, about his presentation. Larger counties have some of that collaboration between cops and election officials, but smaller ones often don’t, he said.

One idea discussed at the briefing was to give patrollers a list of election penalty codes they could keep in their pockets when responding to any incidents on Election Day, Kelley told CNN.

“If you call 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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