Oct 28, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Judge allows activists to monitor ballot drop boxes in Arizona

Photo of a sign indicating the location of the ballot drop box behind a fence

Fences surround the Maricopa County Tabulation and Elections Center in Phoenix, Arizona on Oct. 25, 2022 to help prevent incidents and pressure on voters at the ballot drop box. Photo: Olivier Touron/AFP via Getty Images

A federal judge declined to approve an emergency order to stop activists from gathering at and around ballot drop boxes to monitor voters.

Why it matters: The activists claim they are doing so to prevent purported voter fraud, but voting rights groups have called the move a voter intimidation tactic. Election officials have reported people in tactical gear and masks — and allegedly armed with weapons — watching over a drop box for mail-in ballots.

Catch up quick: The nonprofits Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans and Voto Latino filed a lawsuit Monday asking for an injunction against Clean Elections USA, an organization that has mobilized Trump supporters on Truth Social to hold "ballot tailgate parties," NBC News reports.

  • Clean Elections USA has capitalized on conspiracy theories about "ballot mules" — or people who purportedly drop off hundreds of fake ballots at election sites in secret — to encourage people to stake out at ballot drop boxes.
  • But the lawsuit documented multiple instances of alleged harassment at ballot boxes, including activists who followed voters, took pictures of them or verbally assaulted them. Activists allegedly carried firearms and wore tactical gear and masks in several cases.

What he's saying: Judge Michael T. Liburdi acknowledged in his 14-page ruling that the case "presents serious questions" but said the activists' actions are protected by the First Amendment and their right to assemble in public spaces.

  • The activists do not appear to pose a "true threat" at the moment, he wrote.
  • Liburdi, who was appointed by former President Trump, did say he will keep the case open for any new evidence showing that the defendants "engaged in unlawful voter intimidation."

Worth noting: The FBI has identified Arizona as one of the top states for threats against election officials and poll workers.

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