PHOENIX (AP) — The sheriff in the metropolitan city of Phoenix said on Monday he was stepping up security around ballot boxes after a series of incidents in which people watched the boxes and videotaped voters after apparently being inspired by lies about the election of 2020.
On Friday, delegates reacted when two masked people with guns and body armor showed up at a drop box in Mesa, a suburb of Phoenix. The Secretary of State said her office has received six cases of potential voter harassment to the Attorney General and the US Department of Justice, as well as a threatening email to the state election director.
People watching the boxes and voters coming to vote have covered their license plates, according to photos shared on social media.
“Every day I spend a significant amount of resources giving people the confidence that they can vote safely, and that’s absurd,” Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said at a news conference. Penzone said his office has referred two incidents to provincial prosecutors for possible criminal charges.
Fueled by Former President Donald Trump’s False Claims About Fraud in 2020 and the unmasked movie“2,000 mules,” dropboxes has become a hotbed for conspiracy theories claim without evidence that people illegally collected and deposited ballots in them.
Election security experts and Trump’s own national security and Justice Department officials said there were: not enough fraud to change the outcome of the 2020 elections. Dozens of lawsuits filed after the election were dismissed, many by Trump-appointed judges.
Arizona, the state with the narrowest margin of victory for President Joe Biden two years ago, now has some of the most prominent midterm races in the country, including a Senate race that could tip the balance of power in Congress.
“Uninformed vigilantes outside Maricopa County drop boxes do not increase election integrity,” Maricopa County recorder Stephen Richer and Bill Gates, chairman of the county board of supervisors, said in a joint statement over the weekend. “Instead, they lead to complaints of voter intimidation.”
Richer and Gates are both Republicans.
Voters who applied to Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs claim they were filmed and, in some cases, followed by people standing watch for drop boxes.
“When we got to our car, two people took pictures of our license plate and our car,” one voter wrote. “I got out and asked what they were doing. They claimed they were taking pictures for ‘election security’ and I took pictures of them to report them to the DOJ for voter intimidation and intimidation.”
Asked at an unrelated event Monday if he was concerned about reported harassment in states like Arizona, and whether the Department of Justice would get involved, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the department has an obligation to ” guarantee a free, fair vote by anyone qualified to vote, and will not allow voters to be intimidated.”
A group of dropbox viewers who filmed a dropbox in Maricopa County last week told a local reporter they were with Clean Elections USA, a group that gathers teams to watch dropboxes in several states this midterm season.
The group’s founder, Melody Jennings, said in a podcast interview last month that she wants 10 volunteers to videotape drop boxes day and night across the country.
Jennings said she wants volunteers to keep their distance from drop boxes and abide by local laws. But she added that they had to be in a visible place to act as a “human shield” that keeps would-be voting mules from delivering boxes.
There is no evidence to support the idea that a network of Democrat-affiliated “mules” conspired to collect and deliver ballots to hand in boxes, despite claims made in a movie about the 2020 election.
Two left-wing advocacy groups filed a lawsuit Monday against Clean Elections USA, alleging that the group’s vote-control activities violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871. The Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans and Voto Latino are asking the U.S. District Court in Phoenix to ban the group from gathering at drop boxes and filming voters.
Arizona State Senator Kelly Townsend, who earlier this year praised and encouraged “all vigilantes who want to camp at these drop boxes,” wrote on Twitter Monday that wearing tactical gear while watching drop boxes “could be considered voter intimidation.” .
“Don’t do it,” Townsend wrote.
Penzone, the sheriff, begged people to respect everyone’s voting rights and leave it to law enforcement to investigate suspected violations of the law. He said the intense focus on securing elections has diverted resources from investigating crimes.
“But we will come and we will babysit at polling stations because people have to misbehave if that is what we have to do to protect democracy,” said Penzone, a Democrat.
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker in Washington and Ali Swenson in New York contributed to this report.
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