Election 2020

Lynch Vows to Use 'Every Tool at Our Disposal to Defend Every Eligible American’s' Voting Access

Attorney General Loretta Lynch takes a question during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington on Sept. 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the Justice Department plans on sending Election Day personnel into “at least as many states as in 2012, despite the setback” of the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that found the preclearance section of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional.

In Shelby County v. Holder, the Alabama county challenged the part of the law that maintained certain jurisdictions with a history of discrimination receive federal approval to make changes to voting practices.

At a media availability Friday in Newark, N.J., Lynch wanted “to discuss another cornerstone of our democracy: the right to vote.”

“There is no doubt that the Shelby County decision in 2013 severely curtailed our ability to uphold that right. Indeed, this fall will be our nation’s first presidential election in almost 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act,” Lynch said. “But I am firmly committed to using every tool at our disposal to defend every eligible American’s access to the ballot box.”

She noted that the department has won “a number of important suits against restrictive state laws.”

“We will be deploying a robust number of trained department personnel into roughly half of the nation’s states this fall – at least as many states as in 2012, despite the setback of Shelby County,” Lynch vowed. “This expert team will watch the proceedings carefully to make sure that the elections are conducted fairly and in accordance with federal voting rights laws – and to ensure that we continue to enjoy a strong and vibrant democracy where every citizen has a say in how they will be governed.”

“Our nation was founded to guarantee that right, and I want to assure the American people that the Department of Justice will continue to do everything in our power to defend it.”

Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, told the National Action Network conference in Washington last week that “for the first time in half a century, our country will elect a new president in November without the full protections and safeguards of the Voting Rights Act in place.”

“Of course, we’ve litigated cases in North Carolina, Texas and elsewhere to combat discriminatory laws that drown out voices in districts and block voters at the polls. And we’ve won some major decisions this year,” Gupta said. “Yet these are measures that, prior to Shelby County, we used to prevent before they took effect. Now, it takes us years of litigation to protect the most fundamental right of our democracy.”

Shelby County also significantly curtailed our ability to find out about problems. We know about big statewide changes,” she continued. “But the local jurisdictions that once had to tell federal authorities about smaller election-related shifts no longer have that obligation. That makes it much harder for us to find out about changes on the ground that impact eligible voters.”

“We are watching to the best of our ability, but there is no substitute for engaged residents watching and participating in the sorts of city council meetings that make local democracy work. Beyond the work we do in the field, we also need you as our eyes and ears on the ground to help us make sure elections comply with federal law.”

Gupta added to the group founded by Al Sharpton that “voting transcends partisanship.”

“It makes no difference to us at the Department of Justice what candidate a voter selects or what party he or she supports. We want to have the most robust democracy possible,” she added. “We will do everything within our power, and we will use every tool at our disposal, to protect the integrity of our democracy.”