Attorney General Merrick Garland vows Justice Department ‘will not permit voters to be intimidated’ ahead of midterms


Washington
CNN

On Monday, Attorney General Merrick Garland vowed that the U.S. Department of Justice “will not allow voter intimidation” during the November midterm elections.

“The Department of Justice has an obligation to ensure a free and fair vote by all eligible voters and will not allow voter intimidation,” Garland said during a press briefing.

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

In one instance in Arizona, which was referred to the Department of Justice and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, an unidentified voter reported being approached and followed by a group of people while trying to drop off their ballot in a drop box. happiness The group made accusations against the voter and their wife, then took their photos and license plates and followed them out of the parking lot, according to the report.

In another instance, on Friday night, two gunmen – dressed in tactical gear – were seen at a ballot box in Mesa, Arizona, according to Maricopa County officials. The couple left the scene when the County Sheriff’s Office arrived.

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“We are deeply concerned about the safety of those who are exercising their constitutional right to vote and legally bring their early ballots to a drop box,” Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates and Recorder Stephen Richer said in a joint statement. on Saturday.

Dozens of Republicans seeking to be elected in 2022 as governor, secretary of state or U.S. senator have unfoundedly dismissed former President Donald Trump as rejecting or questioning the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory, with some attempting to overturn the 2020 results. . These unsubstantiated allegations of widespread electoral fraud have inspired a slew of new restrictive voting laws and fueled growing security concerns around elections.

Last year, the Justice Department launched a task force to address the rise in threats against election officials, and security preparations are already well underway for Election Day across the country.

In Colorado, for example, a state law – the Voting Without Fear Act – prohibits the carrying of firearms at the polls or within 100 feet of a ballot drop box. And in Tallahassee, Fla., officials added Kevlar and bullet-resistant acrylic shields to Leon County’s election office, said Mark Earley, who directs the county’s elections.

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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 consider to be an incredibly heightened threat environment” ahead of the November election. He cited conspiracy theories swirling online and the history of extremist groups in the United States as reasons for concern.

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

Amid the threat, he said DHS — and its Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, in particular — is working to protect the election’s security infrastructure.

The FBI and sheriffs representing some of America’s largest counties, meanwhile, have discussed the possibility of misinformation fueling poll violence during the midterm elections, a sheriff’s association representative told CNN.

Last week’s briefing covered how police can balance supporting the security needs of election officials without risking voter intimidation by being “in force” near the polls, said Megan Noland, executive director of the Major County Sheriffs of America, which represents 113 top sheriffs in America. sheriff’s office in the country. Noland also said recent surveillance by private citizens at ballot boxes has been discussed.

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Neal Kelley, a former election official who also appeared at the briefing, told CNN that the potential for confrontation at the ballot box “is something that we need to look at.” The FBI declined to comment on the brief.

Kelley said the FBI provided an overview of the threat environment facing election officials.

“The whole idea was to give [sheriffs] an idea of ​​how they can collaborate with election officials because there’s not a lot of that happening across the country,” Kelley, the former chief election official in Orange County, California, said in his presentation. Big counties have some of that collaboration between police and election officials, but smaller ones often don’t, he said.

Kelley told CNN one idea discussed at the briefing was giving patrol officers a list of election crime codes that they could keep in their pockets when they respond to any Election Day incident.

“If you’re calling 9-1-1 on election day as an election official, it’s too late,” he said.

This story was updated with additional information Monday.

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