U.S. Attorney General William Barr has authorized the Justice Department to investigate “substantial allegations” of electoral irregularities in this year’s presidential election, although there is little evidence of widespread electoral fraud, according to a memo available to the Associated Press.
In the memo to U.S. attorneys, Barr said that investigations “can be conducted if there are clear and seemingly credible allegations of irregularities which, if true, could potentially affect the outcome of a federal election in a single state.
Barr had remained silent because the Trump administration had made groundless claims of electoral fraud after President-elect Joe Biden emerged victorious in the weekend election.
In a series of close races in key states, Biden was predicted by several news organizations to be the winner after he received more than the 270 votes needed to win the presidency.
Trump, however, refused to give up the election. His campaign has filed a series of lawsuits in these swing states calling for recounts and the suspension of vote counting. The constitution does not provide for an obligation to allow an election, but Trump would be the first president who would not do so.
The deadline is December 8, by which time states must resolve all electoral disputes, including legal disputes and recounts. The members of the electoral college will meet on December 14 to finalize the election results.
Since the news arrives before all the votes have been tabulated, Barr’s approval will provide prosecutors with a way out of the Department of Justice policy that normally prohibits such actions before an election is confirmed.
The Department of Justice has no legal authority to interrupt the counting of votes or to confirm the results of the election, as the individual states supervise this process.
As Democrats have tried to expand the postal vote in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Trump has repeatedly attacked the postal vote, claiming with little evidence that it leads to widespread voter fraud, which many electoral experts have argued against.
This is not the first time Barr has reinforced such claims. In September, the Attorney General told CNN that the Justice Department indicted a man in Texas for collecting and casting 1,700 ballots, but the U.S. Attorney General’s Office did not bring such charges.
In this year’s presidential election, voters cast a record number of postal votes. According to the U.S. Elections Project, more than 65 million Americans voted by postal vote on Friday.
Former Assistant Assistant Attorney General Justin Levitt told Voting Booth: “If the DOJ enforces the penal code, it will have no impact on the actual counting of ballots.
“If they want to prosecute someone for election fraud, it is a matter of individual accountability. But the state and local governments still decide whether the ballots are counted. So even if the Ministry of Justice says, “Yes, these are fraudulent [ballots],” it has no legal effect on whether a state wants to count them or not,” he added.
Washington Newsday asked the Biden campaign for a comment, but received no response before publication.