Nov 2, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Federal judge curbs Arizona group's ballot box actions

A woman drops her ballot for the upcoming midterm elections in the drop box near the Maricopa County Juvenile Court Center in Mesa, Arizona on October 25.

A woman puts her ballot for the upcoming midterm elections in the drop box near the Maricopa County Juvenile Court Center in Mesa, Ariz., on Oct. 25. Photo: Olivier Touron/AFP via Getty Images

A federal judge in Arizona issued a temporary restraining order against activists who have been gathering around outdoor drop boxes for mail-in ballots and monitoring voters in the state.

Why it matters: The activists claim they're trying to prevent purported voter fraud, but there have been complaints of voter intimidation by these self-appointed poll watchers since early voting for the midterm elections officially began on Oct. 12.

  • Elections officials in Maricopa County reported "two armed individuals dressed in tactical gear were onsite at a ballot drop box" in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa last month — prompting sheriff's deputies to provide security at the two locations, AP notes.

The big picture: U.S. District Court Judge Michael Liburdi last week declined an injunction in one of the two cases he's overseeing in the matter on grounds that the monitoring groups had First Amendment protections.

  • However, the Trump-appointed judge said in his order Tuesday evening he had since "heard evidence that we did not hear last week ... of individuals being harassed and intimidated."
  • The Department of Justice weighed in on the lawsuits in a filing on Monday, noting that 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."

Of note: Liburdi said he found the evidence to be "much stronger" in the latest case — filed by the League of Women Voters of Arizona against Clean Elections USA, which has promoted allegations from a discredited movie that made baseless claims of "ballot harvesting" in Arizona and other swing states in 2020.

Details: The order prevents Clean Elections USA "and other persons in active concert or participation with" the group from filming, photographing or following anyone within 75 feet of a ballot drop box or the entrance to a building that has one.

  • The monitoring groups are prevented from openly carrying firearms, posting information about voters online or "making false statements" about election laws under the order.
  • Activists are also prohibited from yelling or speaking with anyone returning ballots to drop boxes unless that person has done so first.

The bottom line: "It is imperative we balance the defendants' right to engage in First Amendment-protected activity with the plaintiffs' right to act without intimidation or harassment," Liburdi said.

Editor's note: This piece was corrected to show the case was filed (not requested) by the League of Women Voters of Arizona (not the League of Women against Voters of Arizona).


Go deeper