Attorney General Merrick Garland insisted in recent days that the Justice Department is “urgently” examining efforts by Republican leaders around the country to enact suppressive restrictions on the electoral process. These restrictions don’t respond to documented problems of systematic election integrity — since such issues do not exist in the United States — but the measures do stand to make voting more difficult. Around the country, these pushes have taken the form of new restrictions on drop boxes for mail-in ballots, restrictions on the mailing of mail-in voting applications to residents, restrictions on the work of third-party voter outreach organizations, and more.
There’s also the issue of possible political manipulation of the redistricting process. In certain instances, elected officials handling the redistricting process can intervene to serve their own interests by — among other, related possibilities — putting their own supporters in the majority in as many individual districts as possible, for example. Such moves undercut the basic functioning of democracy by institutionally prioritizing certain voices over others. At an event put on by The New Yorker, Garland commented as follows:
‘We are seriously and urgently investigating and examining other changes in procedures and practices, and particularly looking at all the redistricting that’s done as a consequence of the decennial Census… We are worried about attacks on voting systems, attacks from an Internet security point of view. We are worried about attacks on secretaries of state and administrators of elections and even poll workers.’
Earlier this year, the Justice Department issued a formal guidance document relating to the redistricting process. As a press release from the Justice Department put it, that document was meant “to ensure state, county, and municipal governments comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act concerning redistricting maps and methods of electing governmental bodies.” At the time, Garland added as follows:
‘The right to vote is the right from which all other rights ultimately flow. Discriminatory redistricting schemes or election practices threaten that fundamental right and are illegal. The guidance issued today makes clear that jurisdictions must abide by federal laws when redrawing their legislative maps and that the Justice Department will vigilantly assess jurisdictions’ compliance with those laws during the redistricting cycle.’
Among other efforts, the Justice Department has filed a lawsuit challenging a suppressive elections law in Georgia. Alongside other provisions, that law limits individual counties to putting out mail-in ballot drop boxes at a rate of no more than one per early voting site or 100,000 registered voters, whichever number is smaller. The requirements stand to make Fulton County, which includes Atlanta, go from the 38 drop boxes it had last year to just eight for future election cycles.