“When private citizens form ‘ballot security forces’ and attempt to take over the state’s legitimate role of overseeing and monitoring elections, the risk of voter intimidation – and violation of federal law – is important,” the department said in a “statement of interest” filed in the case.
The League of Women Voters alleged that several organizations were planning “large-scale campaigns to monitor and intimidate Arizona voters at the polls and baselessly accuse them” of voter fraud.
Drop boxes, intended to provide a safe and convenient place to drop off ballots, have become a symbol of election mistrust among voters. many supporters of former President Donald Trump.
Trump and his allies nationwide and in Arizona have urged supporters to monitor outdoor drop boxes, an outgrowth of the discredited movie “2000 Mules” which claims drop boxes were filled with fraudulent ballots in the 2020 election.
News of the Justice Department’s filing with its strong language on voter intimidation was welcomed by suffrage advocates and Arizona officials who were increasingly alarmed by outside groups. gathering around the drop boxes and recording videos of voters and their vehicles.
“To have people standing outside drop boxes, armed with tactical gear, body armor, it’s unprecedented,” said Bill Gates, chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. led by Republicans. The filing, Gates said, showed “there is a limit – there is a balance between the First Amendment rights that people have and also the right that people have not to feel intimidated when they vote. This point was very strongly underlined.
The lawsuit in Arizona is one of several claims by battleground states that voters are intimidated when placing ballots in ballot boxes. Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) returned a report of voter harassment at drop boxes to the Justice Department on October 20. Attorney General Merrick Garland said last week that the department “will not allow voters to be intimidated” in the midterm elections. .
But Monday’s filing marks the first time in this election cycle that the department has entered an ongoing case involving drop boxes in this way. The department specifically referenced the photography of voters at drop box sites, sometimes by armed vigilantes.
“Videotaping or photographing voters during the voting process has long been recognized as raising particularly acute concerns,” the ministry filing said Monday.
The filing comes after Arizona federal district court judge Michael Liburdi on Friday declined in a related case to block groups from monitoring drop boxes. He said in a case brought by the Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans that there was not enough evidence to warrant court intervention of activity protected by the First Amendment.
The ministry in its filing did not offer a specific prescription in the case, but argued that it was possible to craft an injunction blocking threatening activities in accordance with the protection of freedom of expression and assembly of the First Amendment.
“While the First Amendment protects expressive conduct and peaceful assembly in general, it provides no protection against threats of harm directed at voters,” the department’s attorneys wrote.
Voting rights advocates applauded the department’s action.
“The filing recognizes the grave threat that voter intimidation, as we see in Arizona, poses to our democracy,” said Protect Democracy attorney Jessica Marsden, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the League of Women. Vote.
Danielle Lang, senior director of voting rights at the Campaign Legal Center, said the declaration of interest was a strong and significant addition to the case.
“It is remarkable that such a compelling brief was filed on such short notice,” following Liburdi’s decision not to intervene, Lang said.
The League of Women Voters is seeking a court order barring armed vigilantes from congregating near drop boxes and a hearing on that request is scheduled for Tuesday.
The hearing comes as one of the defendants in the league lawsuit, the Freedom Lions, was removed from the case after agreeing to stop its drop box monitoring program. Lions of Liberty board member Luke Cilano in Yavapai County questioned the department’s decision to get involved.
“Why would they make statements about anything pertaining to states’ rights unless they’re trying to overturn state law?” he said on Monday.
Officials in Maricopa County, home to Metro Phoenix and the swing state’s largest voter population, have urged voters to contact law enforcement or the secretary of state’s office if they feel unwell. comfortable stopping at the polls to cast ballots.
The Secretary of State’s Office reviews complaints and determines whether they should be referred to the Department of Justice and the State Attorney General’s Office.
State election officials say they have received more than a dozen complaints about bullying at drop boxes since early voting began Oct. 12. Through an open records request, The Washington Post received copies of the complaints referred to law enforcement.
‘I dropped off my ballot at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office and there were two men filming everyone as they walked through,’ one voter wrote in a memoir about his experience voting at the center. -city of Phoenix Wednesday afternoon. “Although it is not illegal, it is very uncomfortable and intimidating.”
Wingett Sanchez reported from Phoenix.