Federal judge merges Arizona drop box cases, weighs decision

A federal judge in Arizona has merged two cases alleging voter intimidation at outdoor ballot boxes as he weighs a decision expected later Friday over whether to ban groups from monitoring the sites, taking photos and videos and following voters

Anita Snow
Friday 28 October 2022 20:03 BST
Election 2022 Drop Box Watchers
Election 2022 Drop Box Watchers (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

A federal judge in Arizona has merged two cases alleging voter intimidation at outdoor ballot boxes as he weighs a decision expected later Friday over whether to ban groups from monitoring the sites, taking photos and videos and following voters.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Liburdi said after a hearing on one case earlier this week that he hoped to issue a decision by Friday but could continue mulling the matter over the weekend.

Local and federal law enforcement have been alarmed by reports of people watching outdoor 24-hour ballot boxes in Maricopa County — Arizona's most populous county — and rural Yavapai County as midterm elections near.

Sheriff’s deputies are providing security around the two outdoor drop boxes in Maricopa County after a pair of masked people wearing tactical gear 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, has called on voters to immediately report any intimidation to police and file a complaint with his office. Arizona's secretary of state this week said her office has received six cases of potential voter intimidation to the state attorney general and the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as a threatening email sent to the state elections director.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Arizona has vowed to prosecute any violations of federal law but said local police were in charge of “front line in efforts to ensure that all qualified voters are able to exercise their right to vote free of intimidation or other election abuses.”

“We will vigorously safeguard all Arizonans’ rights to freely and lawfully cast their ballot during the election,” the office said Wednesday. “As the several election threat-related cases pending federal felony charges from alleged criminal activity arising out of our State show, acts which cross the line will not go unaddressed.”

In the first case, the groups Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans and Voto Latino on Wednesday asked Liburdi to bar members of a group calling itself Clean Elections USA from gathering within sight of drop boxes in Maricopa County, from following voters, and from taking photos and videos of them and their cars.

The attorney for Clean Elections USA said that such a broad restraining order would be unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, an Arizona state agency, voted unanimously Thursday to have its legal counsel seek a court order if necessary to stop the monitoring group from using the “Clean Elections” name. The commission created in 1998 to provide voters with nonpartisan elections information said it has been barraged with angry calls from people confusing it with the monitoring group.

The second lawsuit that was folded into the first case involves ballot boxes in Arizona's Yavapai County, where the League of Women Voters alleges voters have been intimidated by Clean Elections USA, along with The Lions of Liberty and the Yavapai County Preparedness team, which are associated with the far-right anti-government group Oath Keepers.

Luke Cilano, a Lions of Liberty board member, said the organization had dropped its “Operation Drop Box” initiative on Wednesday “due to being lumped in with people who don't adhere to the law and our rules of engagement.”

Cilano said the “official stand down order” to all members was in response to the pending litigation.

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

Cilano said The Lions of Liberty is in no way associated with Clean Elections USA. He said his group is connected to the Yavapai County Preparedness Team, but the team was not involved in ballot box monitoring.

Similar groups around the United States have embraced a film that has been discredited called “2000 Mules” that claims people were paid to travel among drop boxes and stuff them with fraudulent ballots during the 2020 presidential vote.

There’s no evidence for the notion that a network of Democrat-associated ballot “mules” has conspired to collect and deliver ballots to drop boxes, either in the 2020 presidential vote or in the upcoming midterm elections.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the elections at: https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections

Check out https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections to learn more about the issues and factors at play in the 2022 midterm elections.

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