Oct 31, 2022 - Politics & Policy

DOJ wades into Arizona poll-watching case amid voter intimidation worries

Photo of a sign that shows the direction of the ballot drop box stationed in front of a fence

Fences surround the Maricopa County Tabulation and Elections Center n 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

The Department of Justice weighed in on lawsuits against poll watchers in Arizona on Monday, filing a statement of interest that noted the high risk of voter intimidation posed by "ballot security forces."

Why it matters: The filing, which comes days before the midterms, was submitted after a federal judge declined to approve an emergency order to stop activists from gathering at and around ballot drop boxes to monitor voters in Maricopa County.

  • The activists claim they are doing so to prevent purported voter fraud, but election officials have reported people in tactical gear and masks — and allegedly armed with weapons — watching over drop boxes for mail-in ballots.
  • Judge Michael T. Liburdi, a Trump appointee, said in his ruling that the activists' actions are protected by the First Amendment and their right to assemble in public spaces.

What they're saying: "While the First Amendment protects expressive conduct and peaceable assembly generally, it affords no protection for threats of harm directed at voters," the DOJ said in the statement.

  • The federal Voting Rights Act bars threats, intimidation and coercion, even when they are unsuccessful, government attorneys noted.
  • The First Amendment "does not protect individuals’ right to assemble to engage in voter intimidation or coercion, nor does it transform an unlawful activity for one individual—voter intimidation—into a permissible activity simply because multiple individuals have assembled to engage in it."

The big picture: The Maricopa County suit, brought by the nonprofits Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans and Voto Latino, was recently consolidated with a separate suit filed in Yavapai County by the League of Women Voters.

  • The League has accused three groups of intimidating voters, including one linked with Oath Keepers.

Read the filing.

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

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