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Politics

The Department Of Justice Monitors For Partisan State Election Audits

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The federal Justice Department is paying attention to the results of this Republican review. The DOJ sent a letter over the summer to state officials in Arizona, warning them that they had to follow federal law, whatever they did. It's part of a broader federal effort to protect the right to vote. Here's NPR's Carrie Johnson.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Recent Supreme Court decisions have undermined the way the Justice Department safeguards voting rights. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta lamented that state of affairs in a conversation with me for the Texas Tribune Festival this week.

VANITA GUPTA: There's no question that the right to vote is very fragile and has been under attack.

JOHNSON: Legislation to shore up some of the federal government's power is stuck in a closely divided Congress. But the Biden Justice Department says it's doing what it can using existing legal authority. This year, DOJ doubled the number of attorneys in the voting rights enforcement unit, and it sent a letter to Arizona's State Senate reminding lawmakers and private contractors they're on the hook for protecting the integrity of ballots in their election reviews. Now, nearly nine months after Congress certified the 2020 election, other Republican-led states are following Arizona and starting to announce their own reviews. Vanita Gupta says the Justice Department is trying to send its own message about the so-called audits.

GUPTA: We felt like it was important, as we saw the conversation about these audits begin to spread around the country, that we issue the guidance that we did and make really clear that there are federal legal obligations about ballots, about post-election activity that jurisdictions needed to comply with and to put them on notice that we were being very vigilant about both.

JOHNSON: Gupta wouldn't say whether the Biden administration plans to sue the Arizona Senate or the contractors at the firm Cyber Ninjas, who were hired to help with the election review. Instead, she says...

GUPTA: The department is committed to using every tool at our disposal to protect the right to vote. And we're going to use all of our authorities to do that.

JOHNSON: Since last year's election, states have been passing new laws with new restrictions on voting in elections. The Justice Department sued Georgia in June, arguing its new law was passed with a racially motivated purpose. In Texas, Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed a new voting law earlier this month. The bill bans things like drive-through voting, which advocates say disadvantages voters of color.

Is it possible the DOJ is going to weigh in here with its own litigation the way it has in Georgia?

GUPTA: Yeah. The department is reviewing the recently signed bill...

JOHNSON: Gupta wouldn't say whether another lawsuit was on the way, but she says the Justice Department won't hesitate to act if it sees laws that curb voters' access to the polls anywhere.

Carrie Johnson, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.