The Justice Department sent a stern warning on Wednesday that it may sue states that return to pre-pandemic voting laws, adding fuel to the fiery national debate over election integrity measures.
The new Biden administration legal guidance stated, “The department’s enforcement policy does not consider a jurisdiction’s re-adoption of prior voting laws or procedures to be presumptively lawful; instead, the department will review a jurisdiction’s changes in voting laws or procedures for compliance with all federal laws regarding elections, as the facts and circumstances warrant.”
Throughout the primary and general elections of 2020, states across the country scrambled to adjust their voting laws, often by emergency executive orders, to ensure that voters could safely cast ballots even amid lockdown conditions. Now the DOJ is warning that some of those changes may need to become permanent.
A press release from the DOJ went on to say, “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.”
Among states that moved to make permanent some of the voting expansion necessitated by COVID was New York, where earlier this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that maintains some loosened standards on absentee voting.
The backdrop for the guidance is a fierce debate over voting rights and election integrity as several Republican states, notably Georgia and Texas, have pushed legislation to secure their elections — efforts which Democrats, including President Biden, have claimed represent a new “Jim Crow.”
In a House committee hearing titled, “Election Subversion: A Growing Threat To Election Integrity,” Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Utah) on Wednesday fired back at the comparison: “President Biden said of the Georgia law, ‘This is Jim Crow on steroids.’ With all due respect, Mr. President, you know better. It is disgusting and offensive to compare the actual voter suppression and violence of the era that we grew up in with a state law that only asks people to show their ID.
“This is the type of fear-mongering I expected in the 1960s, not today.”
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Division said of the new DOJ stance, “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.”