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On Election Day, these federal officers in Idaho protect the right to vote

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U.S. Department of Justice, George Prentice
Assistant U.S. Attorneys will be stationed in offices around Idaho to field concerns during the U.S. Department of Justice's Election Day Program.

Election integrity isn’t something that the men and women at the U.S. Department of Justice offices in Idaho take lightly. In fact, it’s a pillar in its very creation.

“The Department itself was founded after Reconstruction to protect and empower African-Americans to use their right to vote,” said Josh Hurwit, the 32nd presidentially appointed U.S. Attorney for the District of Idaho. “And so that's just a core part of our mission that applies to all Americans. And we hope to have a really successful and peaceful Election Day.”

Hurwit, a team of Assistant U.S. Attorneys and their colleagues at U.S. Department of Justice offices in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Pocatello will join law enforcement across the nation during what they simply call the department’s Election Day Program.

But there’s nothing simple about it. They’re tasked with overseeing the department’s handling of Election Day complaints of voting rights concerns, threats of violence to election officials or staff and election fraud.

If you have questions, concerns or complaints about irregularities or possible fraud on Election Day in Idaho, call 208-334-1211.

Hurwit joined Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about how the operations will be handled, what voters with concerns should know, plus a bit of history of how the department has served as a backstop to integrity through the nation’s most difficult times.

Our job at the Department of Justice is to enforce the rule of law and to support our democracy. And of course, we can't have that if we don't have free and fair elections.

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: Well, with one day before Election Day, we have heard a great deal this election season about the importance of election integrity. But what does that really mean? What does that look like on Election Day? We certainly know about poll workers and the mechanics, the operations, transparency, practices and policies. But what about the men and women whose job it is to protect that? that brings us to the US Justice Department's nationwide Election Day Program. So, we reached out to learn more from Josh Hurwit. He is the United States Attorney for the District of Idaho.

What can you tell us about the origin or….what is prompting this Election Day Program?

JOSH HURWIT: Yeah, absolutely. So, every election - we do this every federal election cycle - the Department publicizes our efforts that we take, behind the scenes for each election, which is to ready ourselves for any incidents or complaints that might arise throughout the country. And that's because our job at the Department of Justice is to enforce the rule of law and to support our democracy. And of course, we can't have that if we don't have free and fair elections.

PRENTICE: I'd like you to actually talk just a little bit more about that. What you might say to a voter, to a citizen, about the Department's role in election integrity?

HURWIT: Absolutely. The first thing to note is that we take no position on the actual votes that people decide to cast. Our goal is to make sure that voters feel empowered to exercise their right to vote, and that any issues involving intimidation, whether that be aimed at a voter or to poll workers and election officials, be reported so that we can investigate that with our law enforcement partners at the federal level. That's generally going to be the FBI. But we work well with our state and local partners, too, to get the right resources to the right problem.

PRENTICE: Can you give us a real-world example? Could you paint a word picture for me and describe how an AUSA will spend their day on Tuesday?

HURWIT: Sure. We are going to be on call. And there are specific AUSAs in my office. We have three offices in Idaho - Coeur d'Alene, Boise and Pocatello. We have a lead in each of those offices who is prepared to field complaints and work with our partners at main Justice in Washington, D.C., to figure out what we would do to respond to each of those complaints. And depending on the volume, we may rope in additional attorneys. But it really starts with the information and making sure that we can understand what it is, where the problem might be, and send the right resources to the right place.

PRENTICE: I guess my next question is going to be about a worst case scenario - what if something does happen? Should a voter with concerns about intimidation or fraud be talking to local officials first, or would they be better served in calling the DOJ office?

HURWIT: That's really hard to give a concrete direction on, depending on what the problem might be. It may be something that is best handled by local officials. You know, for example, a building having accessibility issues - that could be a federal issue, but it could be something that could be resolved really quickly by a local official. Maybe something just happened accidentally. If there are threats of violence, things like that, that's where I feel that we and the FBI are well suited to get involved. But I'm sure that the Attorney General's office and local prosecutors and sheriffs would feel the same way as well.

PRENTICE: Everyone communicates a little differently in 2022. So, I guess my next question is: is there a preferred way to communicate with officials on Tuesday - over the phone or online or social media?

HURWIT: So our phone number and I'll give it to you right now is 208-334-1211. That's the fastest way to get in touch with our office. And like I said, we'll have AUSAs on Tuesday, even before Tuesday, ready to field those calls. If there's a situation, of course, that involves an imminent threat of violence or harm, call 911, as always, the best thing to do in that type of situation. There are also online resources and an 800 number to reach the Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C., which is the lead component of the Department of Justice for voting and voting rights matters. That number is 800-253-3931. There's also a website which is civilrightsjustice.gov.

PRENTICE: And again, I think it's worth repeating. It's not as if it's about the political climate. It's about what your department does every day; but on a day when, well, all of us are exercising our citizenship, you're there to back us up.

HURWIT: Yeah, that's absolutely right. And, you know, George, hopefully this isn't necessarily news to your listeners, but the Department itself was founded after Reconstruction to protect and empower African-Americans to use their right to vote. And so that's just a core part of our mission that applies to all Americans. And we hope to have a really successful and peaceful Election Day.

PRENTICE: I can't think of a better way to wrap up. He is US attorney Josh Hurwit. Thank you to you and your colleagues for what you do every day and for giving us a few minutes this morning.

HURWIT: George, thank you so much for having us.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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