Election Law

Justice Department warns against threats to voting rights, election workers

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U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland addresses the 2023 ABA Annual Meeting in Denver. (File photo by Mitch Higgins/ABA Media Relations)

Attorney General Merrick Garland warned Monday of mounting violent threats against election workers across the country, and vowed that the Justice Department will be “relentless” in prosecuting those who threaten the democratic process.

Speaking to reporters ahead of a meeting of the department’s Election Threats Task Force, Garland cited a handful of cases over the past several years in which poll workers in Arizona, Michigan and Georgia—swing states in the presidential election—have faced death threats. In each instance, he said, federal prosecutors won convictions against the perpetrators and sentences of up to 3½ years in federal prison.

“Each of these cases should serve as a warning—if you threaten to harm or kill an election worker, volunteer or official, the Justice Department will find you and we will hold you accountable,” said Garland, flanked by Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray.

“The public servants who administer elections must be able to do their jobs without fearing for their safety or that of their family,” Garland said. “We will aggressively investigate and prosecute those who threaten election workers.”

Garland’s remarks, with just under six months until presidential Election Day, came amid heightened concerns that the nation’s bitter political partisanship could spark disruptions to polling sites, intimidation of voters and violent challenges to election results. A growing number of leading Republican officials, including presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, are refusing to say they would accept November’s election results.

Since its inception in June 2021, the Election Threats Task Force has brought 17 prosecutions, scoring 13 convictions, Justice Department officials said. Among those cases, prosecutors won a guilty plea from a man who said an election worker in Michigan deserved a knife to the throat, and a conviction of a man who threatened a mass shooting against election workers in Arizona.

Justice officials emphasized that they are also monitoring emerging threats, including the use of artificial intelligence to spread disinformation and propagate threats behind technology that can mask the identities of perpetrators.

“Violent threats using AI are still violent threats,” Monaco said. “In these cases, the Department of Justice will seek enhanced sentences. … A threat to any election official, worker or volunteer is, at bottom, a threat to our democracy.”

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