The Department of Justice (DOJ) is arguing that groups watching ballot drop boxes in Arizona pose a greater threat to the election in the key swing state than outright voter fraud.
The DOJ on Monday filed a brief, signaling its support for voting rights organizations in a lawsuit that contends surveillance by so-called “ballot security forces” amounts to illegal voter intimidation. Concerns over voter fraud have persisted as former President Donald Trump continues to baselessly cast doubt on the 2020 election results. The DOJ is asking a judge to narrowly restrict poll watchers as Arizona voters cast ballots in multiple close races.
Advocacy group Protect Democracy last week filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Arizona, asking a judge to block a large-scale plan to watch and harass voters using ballot drop boxes. The lawsuit accuses Lions of Liberty and the Yavapai County Preparedness Team of sending their members dressed in tactical gear to film people using the drop boxes and potentially harangue them with charges of voter fraud.
The lawsuit argues that both groups are motivated by “a thoroughly debunked conspiracy theory that so-called ‘ballot mules’ illegally ‘stuffed’ ballots in drop boxes during the 2020 election.”
U.S. District Court Judge Michael Liburdi on Friday denied a motion to block the poll-watching campaign, saying that doing so would violate the First Amendment while also leaving the case open.
The DOJ asked Liburdi, a Trump appointee, to consider a narrower set of restrictions on poll-watchers that it argued wouldn’t run afoul of the First Amendment. In the filing, the department cited a 2009 opinion by a federal judge in New Jersey who ordered restrictions on Republican-led “(private ballot) security initiatives,” determining they “pose a far greater threat to the integrity of modern elections than in-person voter fraud.”
“Such anti-fraud efforts may create disruptions to the voting process that have the effect of disenfranchising individuals whose eligibility is not in question,” reads the opinion by District Court Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise.
The DOJ filing also cited a 1994 letter from John Tanner, then-acting chief of the DOJ’s voting rights section, to Alabama election officials, stating that plans by the Republican Party to film polling sites would intimidate voters and violate the Voting Rights Act.
Arizona’s Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who is running for governor, last week raised alarms about the presence of “armed vigilantes” at ballot boxes in Maricopa County. Hobbs is in a tight race with Republican Kari Lake, who has echoed Trump’s debunked claims that the 2020 election was marred by widespread fraud.
Newsweek has reached out to the Lions of Liberty, the Yavapai County Preparedness Team and an attorney representing Clean Elections USA for comment.
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