An Arizona judge on Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order to keep a group of armed pollsters at least 80 feet away from drop boxes, following a series of complaints voters felt suggested by people carrying firearms while checking the vote.
The order also prevents observers from taking pictures of voters and requires that they not claim that someone who deposits multiple ballots is acting illegally.
Arizona spawned a series of conspiracy theories in 2020 as supporters of Donald Trump tried to reverse his defeat in the state.
Ahead of the midterm elections, a series of groups — including Clean Elections USA, Yavapai County Preparedness Team, and an offshoot of the Oath Keepers called the Lions of Liberty — announced plans to keep an eye on the dropboxers to prevent people from stuffing them with hundreds of ballots.
The Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans and the League of Women Voters have brought to court reports of harassment in an effort to keep observers away.
On Tuesday, the two sides agreed on a series of measures to protect voters from harassment.
A handout photo by Maricopa County Elections shows two armed individuals dressed in tactical gear on Oct. 21, looking at a drop box in Mesa, a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona
A man in tactical gear is seen through a ballot box in Mesa, Arizona, on Oct. 21
Observers may not approach within 75 feet of a drop box — as required by law — nor intentionally track anyone delivering ballots, even if they are more than 75 feet from either.
Nor may they “openly carry firearms within 250 feet of the drop box, or (b) visibly wear body armor within 250 feet of the drop box,” says the warrant written by U.S. District Judge Michael Liburdi.
“But a defendant may not violate this order if he inadvertently reveals a firearm or body armor. Defendants will not instruct anyone to violate this rule.’
Democratic activists brought a series of witnesses to the hearing to describe how they felt intimidated by the presence of observers.
Leslie Hanson, a member of the League of Women Voters of Arizona, told the court she will not use a drop box this year due to reports of armed spectators
“It’s disturbing,” she said, according to a Twitter thread maintained by Democracy Docket.
“It’s disturbing to know that people look at you and think you’re breaking the law and they’re armed.”
However, an attorney for Clean Elections USA — which is led by Melody Jennings, a busy poster on Donald Trump’s Truth Social platform — argued that people only felt intimidated because of negative media coverage.
The warrant requires Jennings to post the following message on her Truth Social page: “It is not always illegal to deposit multiple ballots in one ballot box. It is legal to deposit the ballot paper of a family member, family member or person for whom you are the carer.’
Though Jennings and her organization continued to fight, Lions of Liberty said last week it had told its members to halt the monitoring operation.
The drop boxes are intended to provide a convenient and safe place to submit ballots. But since 2020, they have become the target of anger among some Donald Trump supporters.
The movie ‘2000 Mules’ spread the idea that drop boxes were full of fraudulent ballots in the 2020 election – but the claims have been widely discredited.
Nowhere is the issue more explosive than in Arizona, which has been the center of conspiracy theories.
President Joe Biden won the divided state by just 10,000 votes, ending a string of decades of Republican victories that left Trump supporters questioning how this could have happened.
But multiple investigations, including a partisan “audit” of Maricopa County by Cyber Ninjas, a company hired by Republicans, found no widespread fraud in the 2020 vote.
This time, those conspiracies have led to multiple attempts to control voting.
Arizona’s Secretary of State said last week that her office had received six complaints about possible voter harassment, as well as a threatening email sent to the state election director.
Dropboxes like this are common throughout Arizona but have become highly controversial
Dave Brehmer and Chad Maier cast their votes for the upcoming midterm elections at the drop box near the Maricopa County Juvenile Court Center in Mesa, Arizona
However, the groups took a win on Friday when a federal judge said they could not be barred from overseeing the boxes.
“Plaintiffs have not provided the court with any evidence that the defendants’ conduct poses a real threat,” said District Court Judge Michael Liburdi.
‘In this file, suspects have not made any statements threatening to use unlawful violence against a specific person or group of persons.’
That was not the end of the matter, however.
The Justice Department weighed in Monday and said “vigilante security measures,” including voter filming, were likely illegal and a violation of the Voting Rights Act.
“When citizens form ‘vote security forces’ and try to take over the legitimate role of the state of monitoring and controlling elections, the risk of voter intimidation – and violating federal law – is significant,” the department said in a “statement of interest.”
The department said the First Amendment right to assembly does not allow people to gather to coerce voters.