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Justice Department issues guidance on election audits, voting changes

The Justice Department on Wednesday issued guidance to states amid Republican-led efforts to audit the 2020 presidential election and pass restrictive new voting laws. File Photo by Gary I Rothstein/UPI
The Justice Department on Wednesday issued guidance to states amid Republican-led efforts to audit the 2020 presidential election and pass restrictive new voting laws. File Photo by Gary I Rothstein/UPI | License Photo

July 28 (UPI) -- The Justice Department on Wednesday issued guidance notifying states about their obligations under federal law when conducting post-election audits and changes to voting laws.

The department issued two new election guidance documents reminding voters and states of their rights and responsibilities amid a push by the Arizona GOP to conduct an audit of the 2020 election results in its largest county and efforts in Republican-led states to pass more restrictive voting laws.

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"This document sets down a marker that says the Justice Department is concerned about this and we will be following this closely," a department official told CNN.

The first document sought to ensure that states properly retain and preserve election records in accordance with civil rights law and that audit procedures do not intimidate voters.

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It made clear that states are required to preserve ballots and other election materials without damage or destruction for 22 months following a federal election.

Further, it addressed a since-abandoned plan by contractors conducting the Arizona audit that would have contacted voters in person or over the phone to collect information about their ballots.

"This sort of activity raises concerns regarding potential intimidation of voters," the guidance stated.

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In May, the Justice Department sent a warning letter to Arizona's Republican state Senate leader about the practice and in Wednesday's guidance the department said it "will act" if states conduct post-election audits in a way that has the purpose or effect "of dissuading qualified citizens from participating in the electoral process."

A second guidance said the Justice Department does not consider states re-adopting prior voting laws after implementing new laws to accommodate voters due to the COVID-19 pandemic "presumptively lawful" but the department will instead review changes for compliance with federal election laws.

The Justice Department sued the state of Georgia in June, stating its new election measures restricted access to Black voters and said Wednesday that states will receive no "safe harbor" from department action if reverting to prior election laws has a discriminatory effect.

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"You should not assume if you abandon the practices that have made it easier for people to vote, that abandonment is not going to get scrutiny from the Department of Justice," a Justice Department official said.

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