The Department of Justice sent states a warning on Wednesday about their federal obligations when conducting post-election audits and changing election laws.
“The U.S. Department of Justice is committed to ensuring full compliance with all federal laws regarding elections,” the memo read.
“This includes those provisions of federal law that govern the retention and preservation of election records or that prohibit intimidation of, or interference with, any person’s right to vote or to serve as an election official.”
In particular, the memo addressed the Arizona auditors’ reported initial plan to contact voters and ask how they cast their ballots.
“This sort of activity raises concerns regarding potential intimidation of voters,” the document read.
“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 DOJ said it will “act to ensure that all eligible citizens feel safe” when exercising their right to vote in situations where jurisdictions fail to comply with the guidelines.
“This document sets down a marker that says the Justice Department is concerned about this and we will be following this closely,” an anonymous department official told CNN.
The Justice Department has already sent Arizona lawmakers a warning, expressing concerns about ballot security and voter intimidation in the Senate-authorized private audit of the 2020 election in Maricopa County.
In a May letter to Republican Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, the Justice Department raised “two issues of potential noncompliance with federal laws” related to the audit.
“The first issue relates to a number of reports suggesting that the ballots, elections systems, and election materials that are the subject of the Maricopa County audit are no longer under the ultimate control of state and local elections officials, are not being adequately safeguarded by contractors at an insecure facility, and are at risk of being lost, stolen, altered, compromised or destroyed,” Justice Department official Pamela Karlan wrote.
Karlan also said the methods used by the group running the audit, Cyber Ninjas, raise concerns about “potential intimidation of voters.”
“The reason we are issuing this guidance is to tell jurisdictions, generally, that we are concerned that if they’re going to conduct these audits — these so-called audits of the past elections — they have to comply with federal law,” the anonymous DOJ official told CNN about the newly issued guidance.
The DOJ also issued guidance on Republican-backed voting laws and how ballots are cast.
Legislatures in 18 states have passed 30 voting bills in the wake of the 2020 election, according to the left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice.
The DOJ’s memo outlined how voters took advantage of voting opportunities brought by the COVID-19 pandemic like voting by mail and early in-person voting.
It noted that while states govern how citizens can cast ballots, federal law will protect “all eligible citizens’ right to cast a ballot, and have that ballot counted.”
“What we’re just saying to jurisdictions is … you should not assume that if you abandon the practices that have made it easier for people to vote, that abandonment is not going to get scrutiny from the Department of Justice,” the DOJ official told CNN.
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