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Justice Department warns states to fully comply with federal elections laws

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the release of two guidance documents to ensure states fully comply with federal laws regarding elections, specifically federal statutes affecting methods of voting and federal constraints related to post-election “audits.”

“The right of all eligible citizens to vote is the central pillar of our democracy, and the Justice Department will use all of the authorities at its disposal to zealously guard that right,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The guidances issued today describe certain federal laws that help ensure free, fair, and secure elections. Where violations of such laws occur, the Justice Department will not hesitate to act.”

“The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the right to vote for all Americans and ensuring states are complying with federal voting laws,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Whether through litigation or the issuance of official guidance, we are using every tool in our arsenal to ensure that all eligible citizens can exercise their right to vote free from intimidation, and have their ballots counted.”

The first guidance document, entitled “Guidance Concerning Federal Statutes Affecting Methods of Voting,” provides guidance regarding how eligible citizens cast their ballots. The guidance document addresses efforts by some states to permanently adopt their COVID-19 pandemic voting modifications, and by other states to bar continued use of those practices, or to impose additional restrictions on voting by mail or early voting. In addition, this guidance document discusses federal statutes the department enforces related to voting by mail, absentee voting and voting in person.

The second guidance document, entitled “Federal Law Constraints on Post-Election Audits,” provides information on the how states must comply with federal law when preserving and retaining election records and the criminal penalties associated with the willful failure to comply with those requirements. This guidance document also details the statutes that prohibit the intimidation of voters and the department’s commitment to act if any person engages in actions that violate the law.

Today’s announcements follow Attorney General Garland’s recent commitment to expand the Justice Department’s efforts to safeguard voting rights. For a list of the department’s actions to protect voting rights, click here.

More information about the Voting Rights Act and other federal voting laws is available on the Department of Justice’s website at www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot.

Complaints about discriminatory voting practices may be reported to the Voting Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division at 1-800-253-3931.

If jurisdictions have questions about the constraints federal law places on the methods of voting they are using or propose to use, or questions about the constraints federal law places on post-election “audits” regarding protections for voters and federal election records, they should contact the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division.

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