Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Friday that he plans to double the number of staff within the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division dedicated to protecting voting rights.
“There are plenty of things up for debate in America, but the right of all eligible Americans to vote is not one of them,” Garland said.
The staffing surge would occur over the next the next 30 days, he said, and the beefed-up unit will use all laws at its disposal “to ensure that we protect every qualified American seeking to participate in our democracy.”
Garland added that he plans look directly at newly-passed state laws aimed at restricting voting.
“So far this year, at least 14 states have passed new laws that make it harder to vote,” Garland said.
“We are scrutinizing new laws that seek to curb voter access and where we see violations, we will not hesitate to act. We are also scrutinizing current laws and practices in order to determine whether they discriminate against Black voters and other voters of color,” he said.
Garland also said the department would scrutinize “post-election audits to ensure they abide by federal statutory requirements to protect election records and avoid the intimidation of voters,” a clear reference to a Republican-backed audit in Arizona.
“We will also partner with other federal agencies to combat election disinformation that potentially tries to suppress the vote,” Garland said.
“Finally, we have not been blind to the dramatic increase in menacing and violent threats against all manner of state and local election workers, ranging from the highest administrators to volunteer poll workers. Such threats undermine our electoral process and violate a myriad of federal laws,” and will be dealt with aggressively, the attorney general said.
Garland said that while his agency will do its best to protect the right to vote, he also needs help, and urged Congress to pass two bills that are currently in limbo — the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. The bills, if passed, “would provide the department with tools it need,” Garland said.
In a statement, the White House hailed Garland’s announcement as “major,” and said that President Joe Biden is “taking steps to ensure DOJ (has) the resources needed to enforce existing laws.”
Lauren Egan contributed.