Armed federal officers are allowed in ballot-counting locations nationwide to investigate possible voter fraud, the Justice Department told federal prosecutors via email Wednesday morning.
According to the New York Times, three people familiar with the message said that the email created some concern over federal officers potentially intimidating local election officials or intervening in the ballot counting. The email came as President Trump called to “stop the count” amid widespread claims of voter fraud and suppression.
U.S. Code prohibits positioning armed federal officers at polls on Election Day, but a top official reportedly told federal prosecutors that the DOJ interpreted the law to mean they could station armed officers at polling locations where ballots are counted anytime thereafter.
The law “does not prevent armed federal law enforcement persons from responding to, investigate, or prevent federal crimes at closed polling places or at other locations where votes are being counted,” Richard P. Donoghue, the official and Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General, said in an email sent around 2 a.m. Wednesday morning.
“Although federal law enforcement officers should act in cooperation with local partners as appropriate,” the code does not prohibit armed federal officers from being stationed at ballot-counting locations, Donoghue added.
The New York Times reported that a spokeswoman responded to a request for comment a day after their article was published, defending the email as an effort to clarify that federal law enforcement officers were around to assist states and localities if they needed help. She said the Justice Department had no plans to send armed agents to polling stations.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey promised to challenge interference or intimidation attempts by federal officers.
“Elections are a state matter, and we have authority as state officials over anyone trying to enter locations where ballots are being counted,” Healey said. “Anything else is a radical reinterpretation of the law. States can handle elections, and we will ensure the people decide the outcome.”
Results of the presidential election have been significantly delayed, with results for multiple states only arriving days after Election Day. Changes in the voting process that included widespread use of universal mail-in ballots came as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to stop the spread of the virus.
Attorney General William Barr expressed concerns of voter fraud for months prior to the election, echoing the president’s warnings that thousands of mail-in ballots would end in massive voter fraud.