Justice Department concerned about armed people at Arizona polls

WASHINGTON (AP) — Reports of people watching ballot boxes in Arizona, sometimes armed or wearing body armor, raise serious concerns about voter intimidation, the Justice Department said Monday as it sued for surveillance.

The Justice Department statement comes days after a federal judge refused to bar a group from monitoring outdoor drop boxes in suburban Phoenix.

Threats, intimidation and coercion are illegal under federal suffrage law, even if they fail, the government lawyers wrote. While legal observation of polls can promote transparency, “poll security forces” pose a significant risk of voter intimidation, according to court documents.

“While the First Amendment protects expressive conduct and peaceful assembly generally, it offers no protection against threats of harm directed at voters,” the US government attorneys wrote.

The filing goes against a judge’s order on Friday. US District Court Judge Michael Liburdi said the allegations presented ‘serious issues’ but it was unclear whether they posed a ‘genuine threat’ to specific people or groups and banning them could violate the observers’ freedom of expression.

Liburdi is a Trump appointee and a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization. The Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans is appealing the order in the swing state with several hotly contested races this year.

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The group sued a group calling itself Clean Elections USA after reports that people were guarding ballot boxes around the clock in Maricopa County, some of whom were masked and armed. A separate complaint has been filed in rural Yavapai County, where the League of Women Voters alleges women voters were intimidated by three groups, including one associated with the far-right anti-government group Oath Keepers.

The two cases were merged, and the Justice Department filed a statement of interest on Monday. Lawyers for Clean Elections USA did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Complaints that people were looking at boxes, taking photos and videos, and following voters alarmed local and federal law enforcement. Sheriff’s deputies began providing security around two outdoor drop boxes in Maricopa County after a pair of people carrying guns and wearing body armor showed up at a box in the suburbs from Phoenix to Mesa. Another 24-hour outdoor drop box in downtown Phoenix is ​​now surrounded by a chain-link fence.

The law does not specifically list prohibited activities near polling stations, but videotaping and photographing voters has been recognized as a concern for decades and was named in a 1994 Justice Department letter on potential violations of the Voting Rights Act, federal prosecutors wrote. .

Last week, the Arizona secretary of state said her office had referred six cases of potential voter intimidation to the state’s attorney general and the US Department of Justice, along with an e- threatening email sent to the state chief election officer. Arizona law states that voters and monitors must stay 23 meters (75 feet) from a polling location.

Groups across the United States have embraced a discredited film called “2000 Mules” which claimed people were paid to travel among drop boxes and stuff them with fraudulent ballots in the 2020 presidential vote.

There is no evidence for the idea that a network of voting “mules” associated with the Democrats conspired to collect and deliver ballots to the polls, either in the 2020 presidential vote or in the upcoming ones. midterm elections.


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