Maricopa County ballots from the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors hired by the Arizona Senate in an audit at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix on May 24, 2021. Photo by David Wallace | Arizona Republic / pool photo
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland warned states that may be thinking about emulating Arizona’s self-styled election audit or enacting new voting restrictions based on dubious fraud claims that a newly beefed up civil rights division at the Department of Justice will have its eye on them.
Republican lawmakers from various states have been touring Veterans Memorial Coliseum in recent days to get a first-hand look at the recount and review of the 2020 general election in Maricopa County that has been underway since late April, and many are proposing similar audits in their own states.
Garland said on Friday that the Justice Department will scrutinize any such audits to ensure they’re following federal laws prohibiting voter intimidation and requiring the protection of ballots and other election records. The department will also publish guidance explaining which federal civil and criminal laws apply to future post-election audits.
The attorney general said similar scrutiny will be applied to any laws that states might pass to restrict access to voting, which could have ramifications for Arizona if state lawmakers seek to pass such legislation in response to the purported findings of the audit. Garland announced that he’s doubling the number of attorneys in DOJ’s civil rights division who are responsible for protecting voting rights.
“Many of the justifications proffered in support of these post-election audits and restrictions on voting have relied on assertions of material vote fraud in the 2020 election that have been refuted by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, of both this administration and the previous one, as well as by every court, federal and state, that has considered them,” Garland said in his speech at the Justice Department.
DOJ already warned Arizona about possible violations of federal law stemming from its audit. In a May 5 letter, an attorney from the department’s civil rights division said the audit’s handling of ballots could violate federal laws requiring the preservation of election records. And plans to visit voters’ homes to investigate “voter registrations that did not make sense” and to review peoples’ voting history in at least three precincts “with a high number of anomalies” could run afoul of voter intimidation prohibitions in the Voting Rights Act.
In response, Senate President Karen Fann, who ordered the audit and hired the team that is conducting it, told DOJ that she had called off those plans. Fann told the Arizona Mirror on Friday that those plans were still on hiatus.
Fann declined to respond to Garland’s comments.
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