The Justice Department’s new memo reminded states that allowing ballots to be mishandled can violate federal law.
The Justice Department on Wednesday issued another warning aimed at states conducting or considering audits of ballots tallied in last year’s election, reminding election authorities that allowing ballots to be mishandled can violate federal law.
While the Biden administration “guidance” document carries no formal legal weight and may not strike fear into local officials, the Justice Department used the release of the legal analysis to press their campaign of saber-rattling against Republican-led audits of the 2020 vote in Arizona and other states, as well as voting changes many GOP-controlled states are pursuing as part of purported anti-fraud efforts.
“Jurisdictions have to be careful not to let those ballots be defaced or mutilated or lost or destroyed as part of an audit,” said a Justice Department official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity. “This document puts down a marker that says the Justice Department is concerned about this.”
The new, seven-page Justice Department issuance doesn’t break new ground, but it does send the message that federal officials are closely scrutinizing the audit efforts.
“Election audits are exceedingly rare. But the Department is concerned that some jurisdictions conducting them may be using, or proposing to use, procedures that risk violating the Civil Rights Act,” the memo says.
“We are keeping a close eye on what’s going on around the country,” the official said, alternately referring to the reviews as “audits” or “so-called audits.”
The guidance comes as the most prominent post-election audit, in Arizona, stretches on for months, well past the initial timetable set up for the review. The effort there has been besieged by conspiracy theories and inexperience, election experts say.
The Justice Department already sent the Arizona state Senate a letter in May raising concerns that the procedures for auditing Maricopa County ballots were not adequate to make sure they were preserved under federal law. However, federal officials would not say whether they are planning to take legal action against that state or any other jurisdiction. A requirement in the Civil Rights Act of 1960 calls on election authorities to preserve ballots from federal elections for 22 months.
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