PHOENIX (AP) — The sheriff in metropolitan Phoenix said Monday he had tightened security around the ballot boxes following a series of incidents in which people guarded the boxes and took videos of voters after appearing to have been inspired by lies about the 2020 election.
On Friday, lawmakers reacted when two masked people wearing guns and bulletproof vests showed up at a mailbox in Mesa, a suburb of Phoenix. The Secretary of State said her office had received six cases of potential voter intimidation from the Attorney General and the US Department of Justice, as well as a threatening email to the state’s Election Commissioner.
According to photos shared on social media, people watching the boxes and voters turning up to vote covered their license plates.
“Every day, I commit a significant amount of resources just to give people confidence that they can safely vote, and that’s absurd,” Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said during a news conference. Penzone said his office referred two incidents to the county attorney’s office for possible criminal charges.
Fueled by former President Donald Trump’s false claims of cheating in 2020 and the film debunked “2,000 mules”, drop boxes have become a hotbed for conspiracy theories without claiming evidence that people illegally collected and deposited ballots.
Election security experts and officials at Trump’s national security and justice departments said there was no fraud sufficient to change the outcome of the 2020 election. Dozens of lawsuits filed after the election have been dismissed, many by Trump-appointed judges.
Arizona, the state with the smallest margin of victory from President Joe Biden two years ago, now has some of the country’s most high-profile midterm races, including a Senate race that could shift the balance of power in Congress.
“Uninformed vigilantes outside Maricopa County’s mailboxes do not increase the integrity of the election,” Maricopa County clerk Stephen Richer and County Board of Supervisors chair Bill Gates said in a joint statement over the weekend. “Instead, they lead to complaints of voter intimidation.”
Richer and Gates are both Republicans.
Voters submitted to Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs claim they were filmed and, in some cases, followed by people guarding drop boxes.
“When we got to our car, two people took pictures of our license plate and our car,” wrote one voter. “I got out and asked what they were doing. They claimed they were taking photos for “voter security,” and I took photos of them to report them to the Justice Department for voter agitation and harassment.”
Asked at an independent event Monday whether he was concerned about reported intimidation in states like Arizona and whether the Justice Department would get involved, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Department has an obligation to “ensure a free, fair vote by all.” Ensure those who are eligible to vote and do not allow voters to be intimidated.”
A group of drop box observers seen filming a drop box in Maricopa County last week told a local reporter they are with Clean Elections USA, a group that is gathering teams in several states this midterm season to see drop boxes.
The group’s founder, Melody Jennings, said in a podcast interview last month that she wants 10 volunteers nationwide to video record Dropboxes in shifts, day and night.
Jennings said she wants volunteers to keep their distance from Dropboxes and abide by local laws. However, she added that they should be seated in a visible location to act as a “human shield” that discourages potential “mules” from getting to the drop boxes.
There is no evidence to support the notion that a network of Democrat-linked election “mules” conspired to collect and deliver ballots to Dropboxes, despite claims in a film about the 2020 election.
Two left-leaning advocacy groups filed a lawsuit against Clean Elections USA Monday, alleging that the group’s election observation activities violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871. The Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans and Voto Latino are asking the US District Court in Phoenix to ban the group from gathering on Dropbox grounds and filming voters.
Arizona State Senator Kelly Townsend, who earlier this year praised and encouraged “any vigilantes who want to camp at these drop boxes,” wrote on Twitter Monday that wearing tactical gear while watching drop boxes “could be viewed as voter intimidation.” “.
“Don’t do it,” Townsend wrote.
Penzone, the sheriff, implored people to respect everyone’s right to vote and allow law enforcement officials to investigate alleged violations of the law. He said the intense focus on securing elections has diverted resources away from investigating crimes.
“But we’re going to come and babysit polling stations because people have to misbehave when we have to do that to protect democracy,” said Penzone, a Democrat.
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker in Washington and Ali Swenson in New York contributed to this report.