Updated May 14, 2024 - Politics & Policy

DOJ: Democracy and those who protect it "under attack like never before"

Attorney General Merrick Garland, accompanied by Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco (L) and FBI Director Christopher Wray (R), speaks at an Election Threats Task Force meeting at the Justice Department on May 13, 2024 in Washington, DC.

From left to right: Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI director Christopher Wray during an Election Threats Task Force meeting at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., on Monday. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Getty Images

Department of Justice officials said Tuesday unprecedented threats against election workers are being "supercharged by advanced technologies" including artificial intelligence.

Why it matters: Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a briefing ahead of a DOJ Election Threats Task Force meeting there has been "a dangerous increase in violent threats against public servants" ahead of November's election.

  • The task force was established to address a rise in threats against election workers over the 2020 election, but it's shown little sign of abating despite DOJ officials accelerating efforts to combat the problem that's included bringing 17 prosecutions and securing 13 convictions so far.
  • Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco noted at Tuesday's briefing that the U.S. "democratic process and the public servants who protect it have been under attack like never before" over the past several years, "as threats evolve and spread" — and the use of anonymizing technology has been of growing concern, with AI being the "most disruptive."

What they're saying: In a "particularly disturbing trend," those threatening election workers have been using such technology to "mask their identities and communicate their threats," said Monaco, who oversees the DOJ response to AI. She noted such technology was also being used to misinform and threaten voters via deepfakes.

  • "As these crimes mutate with technology, they may be easier to hide and cheaper to perpetrate — but they are still crimes," she said.
  • "Violent threats using AI are still violent threats. So in these cases, where threat actors use advanced technology like artificial intelligence to make crimes more dangerous and more impactful, the Department of Justice will seek enhanced sentences."

Zoom in: When asked for clarification on what this would mean, a Justice Department spokesperson said when a defendant has used AI DOJ prosecutors have been directed to consider all appropriate options under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.

  • "Those include existing sentencing enhancements under the Guidelines for the use of sophisticated means or a special skill, as well as upward variances to reflect the seriousness of the offense where no enhancement applies," the spokesperson added.

Zoom out: Amy Cohen, executive director of the National Association of State Election Directors, told CNN Monday that election offices across the country were dealing with "threats and harassment for doing their jobs, and in many places, this behavior has been nearly nonstop since mid-2020."

  • A Brennan Center for Justice poll published earlier this month found 38% of local election officials "experienced threats, harassment, or abuse for doing their jobs" and the abuse is "fueling an exodus" from the field.
  • "More than one-third of local election officials know at least one person who resigned at least in part due to safety concerns," up from 22% in 2023, according to the survey.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from a DOJ spokesperson, Amy Cohen, executive director of the National Association of State Election Directors and details of the Brennan Center for Justice's latest election workers poll.

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