A federal judge in Arizona said Wednesday he hopes to decide by Friday whether to block members of a group called Clean Elections USA from keeping watch outside outdoor ballot drop boxes, sometimes armed and masked, filming people dropping off their ballots. Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said Monday that he's stepping up security around the drop boxes after a series of incidents over the weekend, including complaints about two armed, masked men in tactical gear hanging around a drop box in Mesa.
Some of the drop box watchers film people dropping off their ballots and photograph their license plates, and some lurkers have covered up their own license plates.
"Every day I'm dedicating a considerable amount of resources just to give people confidence that they can cast a vote safely, and that is absurd," Penzone said at a news conference, adding that he's referred two potentially criminal incidents to prosecutors. The conspiracy-fueled effort to monitor drop boxes is pulling resources from his department's criminal investigations, Penzone added. "But we'll come and we'll babysit polling sites because people have to misbehave if that's what we have to do to protect democracy."
U.S. District Judge Michael Liburdi is weighing a lawsuit against Clean Elections USA from the advocacy groups Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans and Voto Latino. The League of Women Voters filed a similar voter intimidation suit Tuesday against Clean Elections and two groups, Lions of Liberty and the Yavapai County Preparedness Team, that are associated with the far-right anti-government Oath Keepers organization.
The drop box watching is apparently being fueled by right-wing election denial conspiracy theories laid out in the discredited film and book 2000 Mules. Officials in both parties have asked the groups monitoring the drop boxes to refrain from intimidating voters.
"Uninformed vigilantes outside Maricopa County's drop boxes are not increasing election integrity," Maricopa County recorder Stephen Richer and Bill Gates, chairman of the county board of supervisors — both Republicans — said in a joint statement. "Instead they are leading to voter intimidation complaints." Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat who is running for governor and whose Phoenix campaign offices was burgled this week, said she is looking in to six cases of potential voter intimidation.