Colorado’s United States attorney Jason R. Dunn has appointed a member of his staff as point-person to address potential complaints of voting rights interference or fraud arising in connection with next month’s presidential election.
Dunn announced Monday that assistant U.S. attorney Rebecca S. Weber will fill the role. Weber’s work in the temporary assignment involves deciding how to respond to allegations that federal election-related statutes have been violated and, if necessary, coordinating related interactions between Dunn’s office and the Department of Justice.
Among other things, federal law prohibits intimidation of voters, a behavior about which there has been rising concern during recent weeks. An Oct. 2 story in the Washington Post said that the Department of Justice has established an unusual procedure to gather law enforcement, national security, and civil rights-related functionaries of the government at FBI headquarters on election day. The aim is to assure readiness to address potential violence on election day.
“Obviously, we’re concerned that there might be any voter intimidation,” Dunn said. He explained that he is confident that his office, as well as other federal and the relevant state agencies, are ready if unrest occurs. “My anticipation is that we’ll have a very safe and uneventful election, but it’s important that we be prepared for any scenario, from the smallest thing that might happen at any polling place to the large event that could disrupt the election in Colorado,” he explained. “The chances of that happening are extremely remote, but it’s our job to be prepared for any scenario.”
General anxiety about whether the election will occur without inimical influences has apparently extended to the Department of Justice’s involvement itself. About 1,600 former Department of Justice lawyers and other officials recently signed an open letter expressing concern that attorney general William Barr intends to use his office and the power of the nation’s primary law enforcement agency to assist President Donald J. Trump win reelection. “We fear that Attorney General Barr intends to use the DOJ’s vast law enforcement powers to undermine our most fundamental democratic value: free and fair elections,” the letter said.
Barr said during a CNN interview on Sept. 2 that he believes mail balloting to be “very open to fraud and coercion.” However, a 2012 examination by News 21, an investigative journalism program housed at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, found that the number of voter fraud cases in the United States since 2000 is “infinitesimal.”
Barr also claimed during the same interview that foreign nations are likely to print large numbers of election ballots and mail them directly to U.S. voters. An Aug. 7 statement by the William R. Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, cast doubt on that likelihood. “[I] t would be difficult for our adversaries to interfere with or manipulate voting results at scale,” Evanina said.
Dunn said that Department of Justice officials nevertheless continue to have some concern about the possibility that less direct efforts by foreign governments to affect election results could take place. “We’re also concerned about malign interference, where there are foreign actors, state actors, who might try to spread misinformation about the election,” he said.
Dunn’s announcement indicates that he has met with the state’s Democratic Gov. Jared Polis and representatives of Colorado’s Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold, among other agencies. “The Department of Justice has followed, as best as I can tell, the same playbook they’ve followed in every cycle, which is outlining both through the U.S. attorney and the FBI the coordination between federal and state agencies. We’re following that playbook. We’re appointing an election officer, which was done in 2018 and 2016 and probably before.”
While the U.S. criminal code also bans the buying and selling of votes, voter impersonation, and a variety of conduct relating to the casting and handling of ballots, Dunn said that the most common types of election law violations are referred to state and local authorities.
He also emphasized that his office is closely cooperating with local authorities and federal law enforcement personnel. “We’ve had a joint meeting with representatives of the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, the FBI, Homeland Security, and the Postal Inspection Service to game out all scenarios, to make sure that we have all the bases covered and to make sure that the lines of communication between federal and state agencies are open and that we’re set to talk about it in real time and without any problems that would interfere with our ability to react to any situation,” Dunn said.
Weber, who has been an assistant U.S. attorney for six years, also served as special counsel to New York’s Moreland Commission during 2013-2014. That investigative group’s work helped lead to the conviction of the speaker of the New York state assembly and the majority leader of the Empire State’s senate on ethics charges.
Weber holds a law degree from Stanford University and also clerked for a federal trial court judge after law school. She previously served as election officer for Dunn’s office in 2018.