US judge in Arizona lets group monitor ballot drop boxes

PHOENIX (AP) – A federal judge Friday refused to ban a group from monitoring outdoor ballot boxes in Arizona’s largest county, saying doing so could violate their constitutional rights.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Liburdi issued the ruling Friday. Local and federal law enforcement were alarmed by reports of people watching ballot boxes 24 hours outside in Maricopa County — Arizona’s most populous county — and rural Yavapai County as the midterm elections neared.

THIS IS A NEWS UPDATE. Past AP stories are below.

PHOENIX (AP) – A federal judge in Arizona has consolidated two cases of alleged voter intimidation at outdoor ballot boxes as he weighs a decision expected Friday on whether to ban the group from monitoring sites, taking photos and videos and following voters.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Liburdi said after a hearing on one case earlier this week that he expected to issue a decision on Friday but could continue mulling the matter over the weekend.

Local and federal law enforcement were alarmed by reports of people watching ballot boxes 24 hours outside in Maricopa County — Arizona’s most populous county — and rural Yavapai County as the midterm elections neared.

Sheriff’s deputies provided security around two outdoor drop boxes in Maricopa County after a pair of masked people wearing tactical gear appeared at the boxes on the outskirts of Phoenix Mesa. The county’s other 24-hour outdoor drop box is at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center in downtown Phoenix, which is now surrounded by a chain-link fence.

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Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, called on voters to immediately report any scare to the police and file a complaint with his office. Arizona’s secretary of state said this week that her office has received six cases of potential voter intimidation to the state attorney general and the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as threatening emails sent to the state director of elections.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Arizona has vowed to prosecute any violations of federal law but said local police are responsible for “the front line in efforts to ensure that all qualified voters can exercise their right to vote free from intimidation or other electoral abuse.”

“We will vigorously safeguard the right of all Arizonans’ to freely and lawfully cast their ballots during the election,” said the office Wednesday. “As several cases related to election threats await federal felony indictments from alleged criminal activity arising from our State’s events, actions that cross the line will not be addressed.”

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In the first case, the group Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans and Voto Latino on Wednesday asked Liburdi to ban members of a group calling itself Clean Elections USA from gathering at drop boxes in Maricopa County, from following voters, and taking photos and videos of them and their cars. those.

Lawyers for Clean Elections USA say such a broad ban is unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, the Citizens’ Clean Election Commission, an agency of the state of Arizona, voted unanimously Thursday to have legal counsel and seek a court order if necessary to stop the monitoring group from using “Clean Elections”. Commission created in 1998 to provide voters with nonpartisan election information said it has been barraged by angry calls from people confusing it with the monitoring group.

A second lawsuit folded into the first case involves ballot boxes in Arizona’s Yavapai County, where the League of Women Voters says voters have been intimidated by Clean Elections USA, and The Lions of Liberty and the Yavapai County Preparedness team, which are affiliated. and the far-right anti-government group Oath Keepers.

Luke Cilano, a member of the board of Lions of Liberty, said that the organization has replaced the “Operation Drop Box” initiative on Wednesday “because it is associated with people who do not obey the law and our rules of engagement.”

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Cilano said the “official withdrawal order” to all members was in response to the pending litigation.

“Our goal is not to scare people and to keep them from voting,” he said. “We love our country so much.”

Cilano said The Lions of Liberty is not affiliated with Clean Elections USA. He said that his group is connected to the Yavapai County Preparedness Team, but the team is not involved in monitoring the ballot box.

The same group in the United States has adopted a discredited film called “2000 Mules” which claims that people are paid to travel between drop boxes and fill them with fraudulent ballots during the 2020 presidential election.

There is no evidence for the notion that a “mule” network linked to Democrats has conspired to collect and deliver ballots to drop boxes, either in the 2020 presidential election or in the upcoming midterm elections.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the election at: https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections

Check out https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections to learn more about the issues and factors at play in the 2022 midterm elections.

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