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DOJ poll monitoring under fire as election experts decry 'corrupt,' 'partisan' agency under Biden

'We are very hopeful that all the poll observers will remember that the Justice Department is not a friend to election integrity and to steer well clear of them,' said election lawyer Cleta Mitchell.

Published: November 8, 2022 11:01pm

Updated: November 9, 2022 12:08am

The Justice Department's announcement that it was deploying federal agents to monitor polls nationwide during Tuesday's midterm elections was purportedly meant to assuage fears of intimidation at polling places. However, the move largely had the opposite effect,  according to election experts who spoke to Just the News, stirring concerns that the department's presence was unnecessary and counterproductive — in large part due to its own actions since President Biden took office.

"Unfortunately, the Justice Department of late has acted in a fashion that has diminished faith in the institution," said former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, an election integrity expert who founded the Amistad Project. "There's an abiding concern that this DOJ is not focused on the law or impartiality but partisanship. Local officials are concerned that federal authorities are failing to recognize the constitutional authority placed in the states to protect their own elections and ensure their own voting processes are carried out."

Such concern mounted after the Justice Department announced Monday it would monitor polls in 64 select jurisdictions across 24 states on Election Day to ensure compliance with federal voting rights laws.

"Since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Civil Rights Division has regularly monitored elections in the field in jurisdictions around the country to protect the rights of voters," the department said in a press release. "The Civil Rights Division enforces the federal voting rights laws that protect the rights of all citizens to access the ballot."

While such a deployment of federal lawyers is normal, this year's effort is much larger than in the last midterm election in 2018, when the Civil Rights Division deployed personnel to 35 jurisdictions in 19 states.

This year's operation is also different as the Justice Department under President Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland has come under intense scrutiny for alleged overreach against political opponents. Just the News has previously reported on growing outcry among legal experts and civil libertarians over what they described as the Justice Department's strong-arm tactics targeting allies of Donald Trump and critics of the Biden administration.

This concern has also spread to the public, with a majority of Americans — including independents — saying they "believe the Biden administration has crossed an important ethical line in pursuing political opponents," according to a recent poll.

Amid intense backlash against the Justice Department, officials in Florida and Missouri refused to allow federal election monitors inside polling locations, arguing their presence inside election sites would violate state law and potentially undermine confidence in the vote.

In the past, Florida officials have "capitulated and let [DOJ monitors] in," said J. Christian Adams, a former Justice Department attorney and current president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation. This year they were positioned outside polling locations, denied permission to go inside.

"I applaud the decisions by Secretaries of State Jay Ashcroft in Missouri and Cord Byrd in Florida to tell the DOJ to stay away," said Cleta Mitchell, an attorney who chairs the Election Integrity Network. "That is the prerogative of those state officials, and they are to be congratulated for standing up to the Biden DOJ."

More broadly, Adams defended the Justice Department's deployment of monitors as "good" and routine, dismissing concern over the program as "much ado about nothing." He argued that, when it came to election-related activity, the DOJ was more active during the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama than under Biden.

Others argued the officials currently running the Justice Department are particularly partisan, and therefore the presence of DOJ personnel should be worrisome.

"State and local election officials are correct to be concerned," said Hans von Spakovsky, an election law expert and senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation. "Attorney General Merrick Garland and Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general of the Civil Rights Division, which is responsible for sending out these 'observers,' are radical partisans who have weaponized the Civil Rights Division to an extent I have never seen before.

"Unless there is a court order in place, these DOJ lawyers have no right to be in any polling place in any state, and they should not be allowed to interfere with the voting process or the administration of elections. This is particularly true given that there is no indication that DOJ has any evidence of any wrongdoing and has not opened up any investigations."

The Justice Department's deployment came after the Biden administration had been warning since last year right up to Election Day about an alleged rising threat of violence against election workers, leading the Justice Department to create an Election Threats Task Force.

The task force found 11% of the over 1,000 complaints of "hostile" or "harassing" behavior it received were substantial enough to warrant opening an investigation. Many "did not include a threat of unlawful violence," according to Justice Department officials. Of those complaints it investigated, the task force found a total of five serious enough for prosecution — "a statistically insignificant number," wrote von Spakovsky, when compared to the 775,101 total election officials in the country, according to a U.S. Election Assistance Commission report on the 2020 presidential vote.

Meanwhile, while prioritizing the protection of election workers, the Justice Department has been quiet about protecting poll watchers, who have been portrayed in mainstream media outlets as threats to harass voters and election workers.

Following the controversy of the 2020 presidential election results, Republicans have made a priority of ensuring a sufficient presence of trained and qualified GOP election observers to match the number of Democrat ones at polling locations.

Rep. Rodney Davis, the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, led an effort by House Republicans to use their oversight authority to deploy dozens of trained observers to key races around the country.

It's crucial for both political parties to have a presence at the polls and in the counting rooms, having them watching and ensuring faith in the election process, Kline told Just the News.

"It's absolutely critical that this election be fair and seen as fair — whatever can be done to persuade the public of this is a positive," added Alan Dershowitz, a renowned civil liberties lawyer.

But critics were concerned about the role of the Justice Department, which noticeably didn't mention federal protections for poll watchers in its press release late last month outlining its plan to "protect the right to vote, prosecute election fraud, and secure elections" in the midterms.

The release mentioned "prohibiting unlawful threats of violence against election workers, and prohibiting voter intimidation and voter suppression" but made no mention of prohibiting unlawful threats against poll observers.

"What is of great concern is that this DOJ is so politically left and has been attacking citizen volunteer poll watchers for almost 18 months," said Mitchell. "Despite the protections provided to poll observers under state and federal law, the Biden DOJ has nonetheless seen fit to attack and undermine these patriots who have signed up, been trained, and are deploying to watch the election process."

When asked to provide a comment for this story, the Justice Department pointed to its Monday press release describing its historical mission since 1965 to ensure the right to vote for all citizens.

"Our worry has been that the corrupt Biden DOJ attorneys might try to create problems and blame any incidents on the citizen volunteers," said Mitchell. "We are very hopeful that all the observers will remember that the DOJ is not a friend to election integrity and to steer well clear of them."

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