by Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
Citing escalating voting restriction laws in Republican-controlled states around the country, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced several actions that the Department of Justice plans to protect the freedom to vote.
Garland said the Department would double its Civil Rights Division’s voting rights enforcement staff, use federal voting statutes to protect the vote, and scrutinize the new anti-voting laws in states like Texas, Arizona, and Florida.
“Before the Shelby County decision, Section 5 enabled the federal government to analyze voting changes like polling place reductions to ensure they didn’t discriminate against voters of color,” Garland stated. “This critical protection no longer exists.”
Garland called expanding voting rights, including proposed bills like the “For the People Act” and “The John Lewis Voting Rights Act,” as central pillars to American democracy.
The evenly divided U.S. Senate, which includes moderate Democrat Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), has displayed little appetite in passing those measures that would help protect voting rights for people of color.
“We know that expanding the ability of all eligible citizens to vote is a central pillar,” Garland declared. “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.”
Garland promised that the Justice Department would double the Civil Rights Division’s voting rights enforcement staff within one month.
He also pledged to work with other agencies to fight voting-related disinformation, a hallmark of the previous administration.
“There are many things that are open to debate in America, but the right of all eligible citizens to vote is not one of them,” Garland argued. “The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, the right from which all other rights ultimately flow.”
He also demanded that Congress act, declaring that “we will not wait for that legislation to act.”
He said the Justice Department is reviewing new state laws restricting voting to determine if they violate federal statutes.
“Attorney General Garland’s remarks today affirmed the importance of enforcing federal law to protect the franchise for all voters,” Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement.
“We applaud his decision to commit new federal resources for this important work, through enhanced enforcement capacity, provision of guidance and assistance to states, and renewed scrutiny of laws that would suppress the vote or overturn the certified results of fair and democratic elections.”
Hewitt remarked that Congress could also do its part to help the DOJ fight for voting rights.
“We and others in the civil rights community call on the U.S. Senate to pass both the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the For the People Act, two essential pieces of legislation that will protect voting rights for all Americans,” Hewitt pleaded.
“We have seen racially discriminatory efforts to limit access to the ballot and suppress the vote of Black people through a combination of misinformation, unduly burdensome restrictions, intimidation, and violence. In recent years, we have seen a resurgence of this illegal and immoral weakening of democracy.”