The DOJ says ballot box monitoring in Arizona is likely illegal
“When private citizens form” voting security forces “and attempt to take over the legitimate role of the State to monitor and police the elections, the risk of intimidation of voters – and violation of federal law — is significant,” the department said in a “statement of interest.” filed in the case.
The League of Women Voters said several organizations planned “widespread campaigns to monitor and intimidate Arizona voters at the polls and baselessly accuse them” of voter fraud.
The ballot boxes, intended to provide a safe and convenient place to cast votes, have become a symbol of mistrust in elections between so many supporters of former President Donald Trump.
Trump and his allies nationally and in Arizona have urged supporters to monitor outdoor drop boxes, an outgrowth of the discredited movie “2000 Mules” which claims that drop boxes were filled with fraudulent votes during the 2020 election.
The news of the Justice Department introducing its strong language on voter intimidation was welcomed by voting rights advocates, and Arizona officials who have been increasingly alarmed by the outside groups that gather around the boxes. and record videos of voters and their vehicles.
“To have people standing outside drop boxes, armed in tactical gear, with body armor, that’s unprecedented,” said Bill Gates, chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, led by the Republicans. The file, Gates said, showed “that there is a limit – there is a balance between the First Amendment rights that people have and also the right that people do not feel intimidated when they vote. This point has been made very strong.”
The Arizona case is one of many claims from battleground states that voters are intimidated when they put ballots in the boxes. Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) referred to the Department of Justice on October 20 a report of voter harassment in drop boxes. Attorney General Merrick Garland last week said the department “will not allow voters to be intimidated” during the midterm elections
But Monday’s filing marks the first time this election cycle that the department has entered an ongoing case involving drop boxes in this way. The department specifically referred to the photographing of voters at drop box sites, sometimes by armed vigilantes.
“The video recording or photography of voters during the voting process has long been recognized to raise particularly acute concerns,” the department’s filing said Monday.
The filing comes after a federal district court judge in Arizona, Michael Liburdi, on Friday rejected in a case connected to blocking drop box monitoring groups. He said in a case brought by the Arizona Alliance for American Retirees that there was insufficient evidence to justify the court’s intervention of an activity protected by the First Amendment.
The department in its filing did not offer a specific prescription in the case, but argued that it is possible to make an injunction that blocks the threatened activity in accordance with the protection of freedom of speech and assembly of the First Amendment .
“While the First Amendment protects expressive conduct and peaceful assembly generally, it provides no protection for threats of direct harm to voters,” the department’s lawyers wrote.
Voting rights advocates applauded the department’s action.
“The filing recognizes the serious threat that voter intimidation, like we’ve seen in Arizona, has for our democracy,” said Jessica Marsden, counsel for Protecting Democracy, which filed the lawsuit. on behalf of the League of Women Voters.
Danielle Lang, senior director for voting rights at the Campaign Legal Center, said the declaration of interest was a significant addition to the case.
“It’s remarkable that this compelling brief was filed in such a short time,” after Liburdi’s decision not to intervene, Lang said.
The League of Women Voters is seeking a court order to prohibit armed vigilantes from gathering near drop boxes and a hearing on that request is scheduled for Tuesday.
The hearing comes as one of the defendants in the league’s lawsuit, the Lions of Liberty, was dropped from the case after agreeing to stop its box monitoring program. Luke Cilano, a board member with the Lions of Liberty in Yavapai County, questioned the department’s decision to participate.
“Why should they be making statements about something that’s a states’ rights issue unless they’re trying to subvert states’ rights?” he said on Monday.
Officials in Maricopa County, home to metro Phoenix and the largest voting population in the swing state, encouraged voters to contact law enforcement or the secretary of state’s office if they feel uncomfortable as they approach the drop boxes to deposit their votes.
The Secretary of State’s Office reviews the complaints and determines whether they should be referred to the Department of Justice and the State Attorney General’s Office.
State election officials say they have received more than a dozen complaints about intimidation at drop boxes since early voting began on October 12. Through an open records request, The Washington Post has received copies of complaints referring to law enforcement.
“I dropped off my ballot at the Maricopa County Recorders office and there were two guys filming everyone as they walked by,” one voter wrote in a submission about his experience while voting in downtown Phoenix on Wednesday afternoon. “While this may not be illegal to do, it is very uncomfortable and feels intimidating.”
Wingett Sanchez reported from Phoenix.
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