Six cases of alleged voter intimidation at Dropbox Arizona locations have been referred to the Justice Department in Washington, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said Monday, as early voting options have been open statewide for nearly two weeks.
“Voter harassment can include gathering around ballot boxes, questioning voters, brandishing weapons, taking photos of people voting and following or stalking voters attempting to cast their ballots, all of which can be viewed as voter intimidation will. It’s unacceptable,” Hobbs said in a press release. “I will continue to forward reports received to law enforcement and urge law enforcement to take action to protect voters from ongoing intimidation.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland, asked Monday about voter intimidation at ballot boxes in Arizona, said: “The Department of Justice has a duty to ensure a free and fair vote by all those entitled to vote and will not allow that.” voters will be intimidated.”
Five complaints received by ABC News occurred between October 17 and October 22 in front of ballot boxes at 501 S. 3rd Ave. in Phoenix and in Mesa Juvenile Court, both in Maricopa County. Most described an instance of groups of individuals loitering near mailboxes, filming and photographing voters returning their ballots and, in some cases, taking photos of voters’ number plates. A report described people in “camouflage” and photos taken by election officials Friday show at least two armed people outside the Mesa drop box.
An incident report filed with Mesa Juvenile Court at 12:30 p.m. on Oct. 20 details how a couple in their 70s, who had parked their car to drop their ballots one by one into the drop box, said they were from A group of five or six men in the parking lot.
“When we got to our car, two people took pictures of our license plate and our car. I got out and asked what they were doing. They claimed they were taking photos for “election security,” and I took photos of them to report them to the DOJ for voter intimidation and harassment. When we backed out, they continued to film my wife, me and our car,” the complaint reads.
Early voting in the 2022 midterm elections began Oct. 12 in Arizona, where 402,000 early ballots have been returned so far, according to data compiled by the secretary of state from 15 county clerks. Other than voters and certified government or party officials, Arizona law requires individuals to stay at least 75 feet from safe drop box locations.
“There is a group of people hanging out near the voting box who are filming and photographing my wife and I as we approached the drop box and accusing us of being a mile (mule),” another incident report released on Sept Oct. 17 at 6:40 p.m. was filed at Mesa Juvenile Court said. “They took pictures of our license plate and us and then followed us out of the parking lot in one of their cars and continued filming.”
The accusations of being “mules” relate to a widely debunked far-right film 2,000 Mules, which falsely alleges that Democrat-hires filled numerous mailboxes with what may have been fake mail-in ballots during the 2020 election.
Hobbs’ office also forwarded at least one report of weekend harassment of poll workers to law enforcement in its Monday release after she and two other employees were sent a threatening and vulgar message: “Remember the French Revolution of 1799?? ….” it said.
Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone told reporters Monday his office is also working with the DOJ to determine which cases constitute voter intimidation. Since voting began, he said, his team has written two criminal complaints and submitted them to the district attorney.
“I think it undermines who we are as a nation and I think it’s self-serving in a lot of ways. And what I see now as the sheriff of one of the nation’s greatest counties, I see that every day.” I commit a significant amount of resources just to give people confidence that they can safely cast a vote, and that is absurd,” he said.
“The more people cause problems, the more MPs you’re going to see on the streets focused on, against burglaries and crimes against children and robberies and all the things we shouldn’t be doing. But we will come and we will babysit polling stations because people have to misbehave when we have to do that to protect democracy,” he added.
Last week, a few people set up camp there, telling ABC News affiliate KNXV that they were at a dropbox in Mesa to “catch some vitamin D” and with Clean Elections USA – a group that is calling individuals to monitor Dropbox locations.
“We’re looking for real patriots to take a stand and watch the drop boxes. We want to collect video (and live witness evidence) of any election rigging happening in real time,” their website reads.
Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon hosted a woman named Melody Jennings on his podcast last week, who said she is the founder of the group. Jennings said they will find “mules” — another reference to the widely debunked film 2,000 Mules.
The nonprofit groups Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans and Voto Latino filed a lawsuit Monday seeking a restraining order against Clean Elections USA and those they say gathered at and monitored drop boxes in Arizona.
Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates and Maricopa County Clerk Stephen Richer, who themselves faced death threats while poll workers, condemned the drop box monitors in a joint statement Saturday.
“We are deeply concerned about the safety of individuals exercising their constitutional right to vote and lawfully taking their early voting to a Dropbox. Uninformed vigilantes outside of Maricopa County’s dropboxes do not increase the integrity of the elections. Instead, they lead to complaints of voter intimidation. While oversight and transparency are key in our elections, voter intimidation is unlawful.”
Kelly Townsend, a Republican and Senator, tweeted Monday, “I shouldn’t have to say this, but wearing tactical gear while watching a ballot box could be viewed as voter intimidation. Do not do it.”
ABC News’ Isabella Murray contributed to this report.