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