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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

California Gov. Newsom signs legislation making mail-in ballots permanent

Gov. Gavin Newsom. Photo: Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation Monday making permanent a pandemic-era measure to mail ballots to all registered voters, the governor's office announced in a statement.

Why it matters: The move to make voting by mail permanent is intended to "increase access to democracy and enfranchise more voters," according to the statement.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
9 mins ago - Economy & Business

All about the boards

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

It's been a bad week for the idea that boards of directors are bulwarks against C-suite malfeasance. On the other hand, it's been a good week for rubber stamp manufacturers.

Driving the news: The board of media startup Ozy Media chose not to investigate a blatant fraud perpetrated by one of its top executives against Goldman Sachs, which was in talks to invest in Ozy.

Updated 33 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Senators grill top Pentagon leaders over Biden's Afghanistan exit

Photo: Carolone Brehman/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Joints Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, and the head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Frank McKenzie, are testifying before Congress for the first time since the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The latest: Austin said in his opening statement that military leaders began planning for a non-combatant evacuation of Kabul as early as the spring, and that this is the only reason U.S. troops were able to start the operation so quickly when the Taliban captured the city. "Was it perfect? Of course not," Austin acknowledged.