Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at Justice Department Leadership Meeting with State and Local Election Officials on Threats to Election Workers
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Good afternoon. I appreciate the willingness of so many of you to be with us today to discuss threats to the safety of election officials and election workers. I am doubly appreciative of your willingness to do so on relatively short notice.
But as you well know, this is a problem that will not wait.
Moreover, it is a problem that is the subject of intense focus by the highest levels of the Department of Justice. That is why I am joined today by the Deputy Attorney General, the Associate Attorney General, and the Director of the FBI.
The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy, the right from which all other rights ultimately flow. Protection of that right is a top priority of the Justice Department. Indeed, it was one of the principal reasons for the Department’s founding in 1870.
Today, we must protect not only the right of eligible voters to vote. We must also protect those who administer our voting systems from threats and intimidation. Only by protecting those who administer the election process can we ensure that the right to vote, itself, is protected.
But no one needs to tell you that. Indeed, you have been making the point publicly and repeatedly. And we have heard you.
In June of this year, I publicly noted “the dramatic increase in menacing and violent threats against all manner of state and local election workers, ranging from the highest administrators to volunteer poll workers.” Those threats, I said, “undermine our electoral process.”
And I promised that the Department’s Civil Rights, Criminal and National Security Divisions, the 93 United States Attorneys, and the FBI, would investigate and prosecute any violations of federal law.
Two weeks later, I announced that the Deputy Attorney General would issue a directive to all federal prosecutors and the FBI, which would “highlight the prevalence of these threats and instruct them to prioritize” investigating and prosecuting them. That same day, the Deputy Attorney General issued the directive and launched a law enforcement task force specifically aimed at combatting threats against election officials and election workers.
The Deputy Attorney General, Associate Attorney General and Director of the FBI will say more about that task force in a few moments.
We are, of course, under no illusions that our expressions of concern and assignment of law enforcement resources has solved this problem. I have personally listened to some of the testimony offered at the July 28 House of Representatives committee hearing concerning threats to election workers.
And I have read media reports of the threats recounted at the conferences held this month by the National Association of State Election Directors and by the National Association of Secretaries of State.
I want to assure you that our attention to this issue will not wane. The Department is committed to investigating and prosecuting violations of federal law against election officials and election workers, and to supporting your safety and security.
To help us help you, I urge that you preserve and immediately provide to the FBI any threatening communications you receive in any form. Subsequent speakers will explain the best way to transmit that information to the Bureau.
When the DOJ speakers conclude, we will turn the microphone over to those of you on this call. Hearing your concerns directly will help us organize the Department’s enforcement efforts in a way that is most responsive to the problems you are seeing at ground level.
I am now pleased to turn the program over to the Deputy Attorney General, who is leading our threats-against-election-workers task force.
Before I do, I want to thank each of you for the vital work you do – day in and day out – to protect the right of Americans to vote. I recognize that your work has become far more difficult and dangerous, which makes your commitment to public service all the more extraordinary and important.