Jul 28, 2021 - Politics & Policy

DOJ: State audits of 2020 election could violate federal law

Photo of two people standing behind white voting booths

Photo: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Justice Department on Wednesday issued a second warning to states that so-called audits of the 2020 election could violate federal laws, emphasizing the agency's intent to protect voting rights.

Why it matters: Several counties and states across the U.S. have completed or considered audits amid former President Trump's baseless claims of widespread election fraud.

Arizona's GOP-led audit triggered a warning from the DOJ in May. The state Senate turned over 2.1 million subpoenaed ballots from its largest county to an outside contractor whose CEO promoted election conspiracy theories.

What they're saying: The agency is "concerned that some jurisdictions conducting [audits] may be using, or proposing to use, procedures that risk violating the Civil Rights Act," which requires election officials to retain federal election records for at least 22 months after an election.

  • The risk of losing or destroying such materials "is exacerbated if the election records are given to private actors who have neither experience nor expertise in handling such records and who are unfamiliar with the obligations imposed by federal law."
  • The guidance also warns against attempts to intimidate voters, citing reports of proposals to contact people in-person to verify their eligibility.
    • "[W]hen such investigative efforts are directed, or are perceived to be directed, at minority voters or minority communities, they can ... can deter them from seeking to vote in the future," the guidance noted.
  • "Jurisdictions that authorize or conduct audits must ensure that the way those reviews are conducted has neither the purpose nor the effect of dissuading qualified citizens from participating in the electoral process."

"The right of all eligible citizens to vote is the central pillar of our democracy, and the Justice Department will use all of the authorities at its disposal to zealously guard that right," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

  • "The guidances issued today describe certain federal laws that help ensure free, fair, and secure elections. Where violations of such laws occur, the Justice Department will not hesitate to act."

Worth noting: It's unclear what kind of action the DOJ would take if states fail to comply, per BuzzFeed.

The big picture: Several states have introduced voting restrictions bills since the election.

Go deeper