Oct 21, 2022 - Politics

Election officials sound alarm over self-appointed drop box watchers

Illustration of a cracked magnifying glass over a divided red and gold background with broken ballot elements.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Several law enforcement and election agencies are raising concerns about self-appointed poll watchers who are monitoring drop boxes, photographing voters and in some cases confronting them.

Why it matters: Some people could be intimidated into not delivering their ballots.

Driving the news: Arizona's Secretary of State's Office sent the U.S. Department of Justice a complaint filed by a voter who encountered the monitors when he and his wife delivered their ballots to a drop box in Mesa.

  • The voter said people photographed them and their license plate, accused them of being "mules" and followed them while filming as they drove out of the parking lot.
  • The Maricopa County Elections Department has received four complaints from the Secretary of State's Office regarding voters who said they felt intimidated by the drop box watchers, spokesperson Megan Gilbertson tells Axios.

State of play: There have been numerous reports of monitors watching ballot drop boxes at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Elections Center (MCTEC) in downtown Phoenix and at the county's juvenile justice court in Mesa.

  • The groups appear to be motivated by allegations from the discredited movie "2000 Mules," which baselessly alleged that widespread illegal "ballot harvesting" operations were active in Arizona and other swing states during the 2020 election.
  • The monitors at MCTEC told reporters that they were with an organization called Clean Elections USA, which has promoted the allegations from "2000 Mules."

Zoom out: Bruce Adelson, a former civil rights attorney with DOJ who has extensive experience enforcing the Voting Rights Act, tells Axios that he expects the Department of Justice to act quickly to gather more information regarding the complaint.

  • If the voters who were confronted were racial minorities or members of other protected classes, the monitors' actions could run afoul of the Voting Rights Act.
  • Even if the Voting Rights Act isn't triggered, Adelson says, the monitors could be violating other federal laws if voters are being intimidated, especially if they don't cast their ballots because of that intimidation

The big picture: If you happen to encounter self-appointed poll watchers, you should remember that you're under no obligation to answer their questions or interact with them in any way, election officials tell Axios.

  • Election officials said people should report any attempts to interfere with ballot drop-offs to the Maricopa County Recorder's Office or on the secretary of state's website.
  • Call 911 if you feel threatened.

What's next: The AG's Office is reviewing the complaint from the Secretary of State's Office, spokesperson Brittni Thomason tells Axios.

Of note: State law prohibits ballot harvesting, in which people from collecting or delivering other voters' ballots to election officials.

  • You can still deliver ballots for family or members of your household.

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