U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday offered a fierce defense of voting rights, which he described as an indisputable “cornerstone” of American democracy, as he outlined a series of measures meant to protect those rights.
“There are many things open to debate in America, but the right of all eligible citizens to vote is not one of them. The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, the right from which all other rights ultimately flow,” Garland said during remarks to the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.
Following former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of a stolen 2020 election, many Republican-led legislatures across the country have in recent months sought to pass restrictive voting measures that critics have argued are often designed specifically to disenfranchise racial minorities and the poor.
Garland noted that at least 14 states have passed new laws this year to make it harder to vote. Those states include Georgia, Florida and Arizona.
“To meet the challenge of the current moment, we must rededicate the resources of the Department of Justice to a critical part of its original mission: enforcing federal law to protect the franchise for all eligible voters,” Garland said.
As part of this mission, Garland said the Justice Department would double the number of voter enfranchisement lawyers in the Civil Rights Division and more closely scrutinize laws that relate to the right to vote, including examining state legislation for possible disenfranchisement against Black voters and other people of color.
Garland also said the department would examine recent reviews of state 2020 election results. The Department of Justice has already raised concerns about a GOP-led review of ballots in Maricopa County, Arizona.
The attorney general said his department’s ability to protect voting rights was hampered by a 2013 Supreme Court decision that struck down a key provision in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Garland called on Congress to advance two bills on voting rights that have the backing of most Democrats but seem unlikely to pass.
As the nation’s chief law enforcement official, Garland also vowed to combat disinformation campaigns that may deter people from voting, as well as publish guidance for how states should move forward with mail-in ballots — a topic that became a focal point of the partisan divide during the 2020 race.
“Nearly two and a half centuries into our experiment of ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people,’ we have learned much about what supports a healthy democracy,” Garland said. “We know that expanding the ability of all eligible citizens to vote is the central pillar. That means ensuring that all eligible voters can cast a vote; that all lawful votes are counted; and that every voter has access to accurate information. The Department of Justice will never stop working to protect the democracy to which all Americans are entitled.”