Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday vowed that the US Department of Justice “will not allow voters to panic” in the November midterm elections.
“The Department of Justice has a responsibility to ensure a free and fair vote for everyone who is eligible to vote and cannot allow voter intimidation,” Garland said at a news conference.
More than 7 million ballots have already been cast in 39 states as of Monday, according to data from election officials Edison Research and Catalist. But with two weeks to go until November 8, law enforcement agencies and officials are turning their attention to Election Day and the potential for violence amid threats to election workers and reports of voter intimidation.
In Arizona, the Secretary of State’s Office has already sent six reports of intimidation of voters near ballot boxes to law enforcement, as well as a report of harassment of election workers.
In one case, which was submitted to the Department of Justice and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, an anonymous voter reported being approached and followed by a mob while attempting to leave their ballot at the ballot box. The group accused the voter and their wives of taking pictures of them with their license plates and following them out of the parking lot, according to reports.
In one case, two armed men – wearing tactical gear – were spotted at a voting booth in Mesa, Arizona, on Friday night, according to Maricopa County officials. The two left the scene when the County Sheriff’s Office arrived.
“We are deeply concerned about the safety of the people who are exercising their right to vote and who are voting promptly,” said Maricopa County Board of Supervisors President Bill Gates and Recorder Stephen Richer in a joint statement. Saturday.
Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said Monday that the two armed men were not breaking the law, but he criticized people who were trying to “intimidate other voters.”
Many Republicans seeking to be elected in 2022 as governor, secretary of state or US senator have joined former President Donald Trump in denying or questioning the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s victory in 2020, while others have tried to reverse the 2020 results. such widespread electoral fraud led to the introduction of voting bans and raised concerns about election security.
Last year, the Department of Justice established a task force to help address the rise in threats to election officials, and security preparations are already underway for Election Day across the country.
In Colorado, for example, a state law – the Vote Without Fear Act – prohibits carrying a firearm at a polling place or within 100 feet of a ballot box. And in Tallahassee, Florida, officials have added Kevlar shields and bullet-resistant acrylic to the Leon County elections office, said Mark Earley, who runs the county’s elections.
Samantha Vinograd, the Department of Homeland Security’s assistant secretary for counterterrorism, threat prevention, and law enforcement, said Monday that the agency is “focusing on what we see as the most dangerous” before the November election. He also cited the spread of cybercrime and the history of extremist groups in the United States as a cause for concern.
“We know there’s a long history of election-related violence,” said Vinograd, a former CNN contributor, speaking at the 2022 Homeland Security Enterprise Forum. “At the same time, anyone who has a Twitter account or a Facebook account, or who watches the news knows that a lot of conspiracy theories are abounding with various election fraud stories.”
In the midst of these threats, he said, DHS — and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, in particular — is working to protect security.
The FBI and sheriffs representing major American counties, meanwhile, have discussed the possibility of false information causing violence at polling stations during the midterm elections, a representative of the sheriff’s office told CNN.
The meeting last week discussed how law enforcement can better protect election officials without intimidating voters by “being strong” near polling places, said Megan Noland, head of the Major County Sheriffs of America, which represents the largest 113. sheriff’s offices in the country. Recent private citizen surveillance of ballot boxes was also discussed, Noland said.
Neal Kelley, an election official who also commented on the event, told CNN that the possibility of conflict at the ballot box “is something we have to look at.” The FBI declined to comment on the incident.
The FBI, Kelley said, provided a glimpse into the dangerous environment that election officials face.
“The whole idea was to give [sheriffs] the idea of how to coordinate with election officials because there’s not a lot of that happening across the country,” Kelley, a former chief of elections in Orange County, California, said of his case. Major counties have police cooperation. they are the chiefs of elections, but the smaller ones often don’t, he said.
One idea discussed at the event was to give election officials a list of criminals to keep in their pockets in response to Election Day incidents, Kelley told CNN.
“If you’re calling 9-1-1 on Election Day as an election official, it’s too late,” he said.
This article was updated on Monday.