Federal prosecutors have long been told not to mount election fraud investigations in the final months before an election for fear they could depress voter turnout or erode confidence in the results. The Justice Department has lifted that prohibition weeks before the presidential election. The move comes as President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr have promoted a false narrative that voter fraud is rampant, the New York Times reports. DOJ told prosecutors they could investigate suspicions of election fraud before votes are tabulated. That reversed a decades-long policy that largely forbade aggressively conducting such inquiries during campaigns. The memo creates “an exception to the general non-interference with elections policy” for suspicions of election fraud, particularly misconduct by federal government workers.
The exception allows investigators to take overt investigative steps, like questioning witnesses, that were previously off limits in such inquiries until after election results were certified. The U.S. Attorney in New Jersey, Craig Carpenito, promoted an arrest on Wednesday of a postal worker suspected of discarding mail, including dozens of ballots, which were found and put back in the mail. The Justice Department said that the new memo was not a political act and that no political appointee directed, prepared or issued it. Democrats, civil rights lawyers and former DOJ officials have been wary of late-breaking cases based on voter fraud accusations that create more headlines than substantive charges. Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center for Justice said, “If they want to deter misconduct that they’re worried about, they can remind people of the law and announce that they’re going to prosecute any violators to the fullest extent of the law. That does not require an exception to this longstanding and sensible policy.”