Updated Oct 23, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Election officials: Armed "vigilantes" near ballot drop box in Arizona

A person dropping a ballot into a drop box outside of the Maricopa County Elections Department in Phoenix in August 2022.

Cars line up to drop off ballots outside the Maricopa County Elections Department in Phoenix in August. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

At least two people in tactical gear and masks and allegedly armed with weapons were watching over a drop box for mail-in ballots in Mesa, Arizona, on Friday, the Maricopa County Elections Department said Saturday.

Why it matters: At least two voters have filed complaints of voter intimidation to Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) in the past few days, including one claiming "camo clad people" of taking pictures while an early ballot was dropped off outside the Maricopa County election headquarters, according to KNXV-TV, an ABC-affiliated station in Phoenix.

  • The other complaint also alleged that a voter was filmed and accused of “being a mule” while submitting their ballot to a drop box in Maricopa County, KNXV-TV reports.
  • Arizona law prohibits people from entering the 75-foot limit of a voting location with a weapon, which would be considered an unlawful act of voter intimidation.
  • Early voting for the 2022 midterms officially started in the state on Oct. 12.

What they're saying: "On Friday, 2 armed individuals dressed in tactical gear were onsite at our Mesa ballot drop box. After [Maricopa County Sheriff's Office] arrived, the individuals left," the elections department said on Twitter.

  • "Uninformed vigilantes outside Maricopa County's drop boxes are not increasing election integrity. Instead they are leading to voter intimidation complaints. Although monitoring and transparency in our elections is critical, voter intimidation is unlawful," it added.
  • "For those who want to be involved in election integrity, become a poll worker or an official observer with your political party. Don't dress in body armor to intimidate voters as they are legally returning their ballots."

Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates and Stephen Richer, the county's recorder, condemned the drop box watchers in a statement on Saturday.

  • "We are deeply concerned about the safety of individuals who are exercising their constitutional right to vote and who are lawfully taking their early ballot to a drop box," they said.

The big picture: Gates also said in a press conference last week that election workers were being harassed as they come to work.

  • "We aren’t going to stand by while our election workers who are your friends, family members & neighbors get harassed for doing their jobs. When you observe elections, please do it respectfully," he said in a tweet.
  • The Department of Justice and FBI identified Arizona as one of the top states for threats to election officials and poll workers, according to a letter to elections officials obtained by Axios.
  • Republican Kari Lake, who is facing off against Hobbs in the Arizona governor's race, has repeatedly made false claims that the 2020 election was rigged against former President Trump and has proposed new restrictive new laws to address the nonexistent fraud.

Go deeper: FBI identifies Arizona as one of top states for threats against election workers

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Kari Lake and Katie Hobbs are candidates in the Arizona governor's race, not the Arizona secretary of state race.

Go deeper