“Biden has big fears about voting restrictions and finds few tools to deal with it”


The White House says it’s using every tool it has to draw attention to restrictive voting laws being passed in GOP-led states across the country, including potential legal challenges. Administration officials say Biden talks about attacks on voting access in all of his major speeches to send a signal not just to voters, but to those in power, that it’s a personal priority. And though the decision to give Vice President Kamala Harris the voting rights portfolio was interpreted as a sign that the White House viewed the issue as intractable, senior officials insist that giving her “convening power” actually demonstrated how seriously they’re taking it….

But the most far-reaching actions of Biden’s administration are unlikely to come from inside the walls of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Instead, the Department of Justice will be central to the president’s battle with states that pass new election laws that restrict access to the ballot.

“Enforcement of the laws that we have, even as we push for more extensive legislative support, is critical,” said Justin Levitt, White House senior policy adviser on democracy and voting rights. Levitt, who worked at the Justice Department in the Obama administration, quickly added that the enforcement decisions “are entirely within” Attorney General Merrick Garland’s hands. . . .

“Without new federal legislation, the biggest lever the Biden Administration has is [the] DOJ,” said Rick Hasen, an election law professor at the University of California, Irvine. The Justice Department can file suit under the Voting Rights Act, Civil Rights Act, National Voter Registration Act and other laws “to ensure that federal law protecting voting rights and a fair election process are followed,” he said.

“This is not as good in terms of protecting voting rights as preclearance, killed by the Supreme Court in 2013,” said Hasen, referring to sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that were struck down in a decision known as Shelby v. Holder. “But it is better than nothing.”

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