Group can monitor ballot boxes in Arizona, US judge says

PHOENIX — A federal judge on Friday refused to bar a group from surveilling open-air ballot boxes in Arizona’s largest county where observers showed up armed and wearing bulletproof vests, saying it could violate the constitutional rights of observers.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Liburdi said the case remains open and the Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans may try again to make its case against a group calling itself Clean Elections USA. A second plaintiff, Voto Latino, was removed from the case.

Liburdi concluded that “while this case certainly presents serious issues, the Court cannot craft an injunction without violating the First Amendment.” The judge is a Trump appointee and a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization.

Local and federal law enforcement has been alarmed by reports of people, some of whom were masked and armed, guarding ballot boxes around the clock in Maricopa County – Arizona’s most populous county – and rural Yavapai County ahead of midterm elections. Some voters have complained of being intimidated by voters after people watching the ballot boxes took photos and videos and followed voters.

Arizona law states that voters and monitors must stay 23 meters (75 feet) from a polling location.

“The plaintiffs have provided the court with no evidence that the defendants’ conduct poses a genuine threat,” the judge wrote. “In this case, the defendants made no statements threatening to commit acts of unlawful violence against any particular individual or group of individuals.”

The Arizona Alliance for American Retirees said it was disappointed.

“We continue to believe that the intimidation and harassment of Clean Elections USA is unlawful,” he said shortly before filing a lawsuit.

Liburdi issued his decision two days after a hearing on the first of two similar cases. The lawyer for Clean Elections USA had argued that such a broad restraining order would be unconstitutional.

A second lawsuit involving charges of voter intimidation at drop boxes in Arizona’s Yavapai County has since been merged with the first.

Sheriff’s deputies provide security around the two Maricopa County outdoor drop boxes after a pair of people carrying guns and wearing body armor showed up at a box in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa . The county’s other 24-hour outdoor drop box is at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center in downtown Phoenix, which is now surrounded by a chain-link fence.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, called on voters to immediately report any bullying to police and file a complaint with his office. The Arizona secretary of state said this week that her office had received six cases of potential voter intimidation against the state’s attorney general and the US Department of Justice, as well as an email threatening sent to the State Elections Officer.

Ross D. Franklin/AP



The Maricopa County Department of Elections warehouse stores all equipment and signage for all Phoenix polling places on September 8, 2022.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona pledged to pursue any violations of federal law, but said local police were on the “front line to ensure that all qualified voters can exercise their right to vote without intimidation or other electoral abuses”.

“We will vigorously protect the right of all Arizonans to vote freely and legally in elections,” the office said Wednesday. “As the numerous election threat cases awaiting federal felony charges for alleged criminal activity arising out of our state demonstrate, acts that cross the line will not go unaddressed.”

Tensions escalated Friday afternoon outside the drop box in Mesa, where a voter arrived on a motorcycle, dropped off their ballot, then made a lewd gesture at an Associated Press photographer and to a local TV crew stationed in a parking lot across the street. Reporters identified themselves as working news media to a second man who later drove by in an SUV. He told them he was filming them and would report them to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack.

Meanwhile, the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, an Arizona state agency, voted unanimously on Thursday for its legal counsel to seek a court order if needed to stop the watchdog group from using the name Clean Elections. The commission set up in 1998 to provide voters with nonpartisan election information said it had been bombarded with angry calls from people mistaking it for the watchdog group.

The second lawsuit that has been incorporated into the first case involves ballot boxes in Yavapai County, Arizona, where the League of Women Voters alleges voters were intimidated by Clean Elections USA, as well as the Liberty Lions and Team Yavapai County Preparedness Group, which are associated with the far-right anti-government group Oath Keepers.

Lions of Liberty board member Luke Cilano said the organization dropped its “Operation Drop Box” initiative on Wednesday “because it was lumped in with people who do not follow the law and our rules of conduct.” ‘commitment”.

Cilano said the “official withdrawal order” to all members was in response to ongoing litigation.

“Our goal is not to scare people away from voting,” he said. “We love our country very much.”

Cilano said the Freedom Lions are in no way associated with Clean Elections USA. He said his group was linked to the Yavapai County Readiness Team, but the team was not involved in ballot box monitoring.

Similar groups across the United States have embraced a discredited film called “2000 Mules” which claims people were paid to travel among drop boxes and stuff them with fraudulent ballots in the presidential vote of 2020.

There is no evidence for the idea that a network of voting “mules” associated with the Democrats conspired to collect and deliver ballots to the polls, either in the 2020 presidential vote or in the upcoming ones. midterm elections.

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