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Justice Department warn states about federal laws being violated during election audits

Feds didn't mention GOP-led audit in Arizona but referred to "private actors who have neither experience nor expertise in handling such records."

Updated: August 26, 2021 - 9:12pm

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The Justice Department is warned that election auditors could face criminal and civil penalties if they destroy records related to the balloting or intimidate voters in violation of federal laws – amid such a process in Arizona ordered by Republicans in the state Senate. 

The warning was included in election-related guidance documents the department issued Wednesday as part of a larger initiative to protect voter access to polls, according to The New York Times

The large plan was announced in June by Attorney General Merrick Garland.

The federal laws that could be violated, the department said, are the 1960 Civil Rights Act and federal laws prohibiting voter intimidation.

Another document released Wednesday outlined federal laws on how ballots are cast and warned states that reverting to pre-pandemic voting procedures – which may not have allowed as many people to vote early or by mail – could face federal scrutiny. 

The ruling also came the day after the Democrat-controlled House passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which Senate Republicans, under existing chamber rules, will likely keep from getting enacted. 

The department did not name the Arizona audit in its guidance documents. But it said it was concerned that some jurisdictions conducting audits could jeopardize election records, amid concerns that the outside audit firm in the Arizona effort, Cyber Ninjas, has little or no experience in the process, The Times also reported.

"This risk is exacerbated if the election records are given to private actors who have neither experience nor expertise in handling such records and who are unfamiliar with the obligations imposed by federal law," the department said.

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