Update to MAGA/QAnon Thugs Are Already Engaged In Voter Intimidation At Early Voting Sites In Arizona (Updated).

Howard Fisher reports, Groups suing to stop drop-box watchers, tell judge it’s voter intimidation:

Advertisement

Two political groups that encourage voting want a federal judge to order members of Clean Elections USA, some armed and in tactical gear, to stay away from ballot drop boxes.

A lawsuit filed Monday accuses members of the group and founder Melody Jennings of conducting a “coordinated campaign of vigilante voter intimidation.” Attorney Daniel Arrellano said that violates not just the federal Voting Rights Act but the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act that bans private conspiracies to intimidate voters.

And Arellano told U.S. District Court Judge John Tuchi that he needs to act immediately.

“Voting is already underway, and there are only 15 days left until election day,” he said. Arellano also said that organized vigilante groups already have turned away voters.

Note: In Arizona, every mailbox is a ballot drop box. Take your ballot to the post office if you do not trust the security of your own home mailbox.

He is not alleging that there has been violence.

“But, in the current charged political climate, defendants’ actions carry with them exacerbated threats,” he wrote, with the real risk that the actions will remain peaceful. “Unless enjoined, defendants will continue to bully and intimidate lawful Arizona voters — including through using armed presences — who are attempting to do nothing more than vote in accordance with Arizona law.”

Marc E. Elias from Democracy Docket explained the lawsuit on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.

Arellano wants Tuchi to do more than prohibit those involved from gathering “within sight of drop boxes.”

He also wants an order barring them from following and taking photos or videos of voters and prospective voters or their vehicles around drop boxes. And Arellano said Tuchi also should bar Jennings and members of Clean Elections USA from “training, organizing, or directing others to do the same.”

In filing suit, he also told Tuchi this isn’t just about voter safety.

“In 2020, election workers who were wrongfully accused of misconduct faced unrelenting harassment, including death threats, with some relocating themselves and their families out of fears for their safety,” Arellano said.

For the moment, the problem — at least with Clean Elections USA — appears to be limited to Maricopa County. That’s where volunteers who said they were affiliated with that organization set up with cameras outside the county’s election offices in downtown Phoenix and a second drop box outside a county office in Mesa.

There already have been multiple complaints forwarded to both the state Attorney General’s Office and the FBI about armed people intimidating would-be voters.

And yet our partisan hack attorney general Mark Brnovich and his crack Election Integrity Unit (EUI) have said nothing about protecting Arizona citizens’ right to vote from vigilante voter intimidation. Nor has Governor Ducey condemed the actions of these right-wing vigilantes. Is it because “Krazy Kari” Lake and Oath Keeper Mark Finchem, and other Republicans like outgoing Sen. Kelly Townsend, have openly encouraged right-wing vigilantes?

And where is the U.S. Attorney for Arizona, Gary Restaino? Why is the U.S. Attorney Office for the District of Arizona not bringing this lawsuit on behalf of the Department of Justice Voting Rights Section? This is their bailiwick.

Other groups which have announced similar plans elsewhere are not part of this lawsuit.

Arellano said the problem is related to “2000 Mules,” a film which floated conspiracy theories that “ballot mules” had stolen the 2020 election by “stuffing” drop boxes with fraudulent ballots. He said the idea, hatched by Jennings, was to place people around every drop box to deter these “mules.”

“But there are no ‘mules’ — they are a paranoid conspiracy — so the people defendant Jennings is targeting are simply voters,” he told the judge.

He cited a post from Jennings on Truth Social, a social media program founded by former president Trump.

In that, Jennings tells volunteers to follow laws, not to wear MAGA clothing so they don’t get accused of electioneering and abiding by distance guidelines in state law. But she also wants no fewer than eight people at any location.

“Just your presence alone & the mule knowing that they will be caught on ur multiple cameras is enough deterrent to make them shrink back into the darkness,” Jennings wrote.

And Arellano said Jennings has effectively admitted her organization’s volunteers are the ones involved in what is happening in Arizona.

He pointed out that she posted a photograph of someone using a drop box, saying he “pulled ballots out of his shirt” and how she needs more people to monitor the site. “Lots of people.”

Arellano also cited an interview with Jennings where she said that some Arizona voters retreated from drop boxes after encountering the groups she had coordinated.

All that, he said, should prove to Tuchi the need for action.

“Defendants’ presence is therefore expressly intended to discourage voters from using drop boxes,” Arellano told the judge.

Much of the basis for his request for a restraining order is based on the 1965 Voting Rights Act which makes it illegal to “intimidate, threaten or coerce” any person for voting or attempting to vote. And Arellano said that Congress, in crafting the law, specifically said that it need not be shown that the law is violated even if it was the specific purpose of someone to intimidate.

“The (Clean Elections USA) defendants, monitoring drop boxes wearing full tactical gear and bearing arms, are intimidating voters by their presence through a clear threat of physical violence,” he said.

“Such a presence of armed guards at voting locations with no connection to state government is certainly likely to intimidate voters,” Arellano said. “Similarly, accusing voters of criminal conduct — as defendants and their agents have when accusing voters of being ‘mules’ — or suggesting that they are otherwise ineligible to vote also can constitute voter intimidation.”

Ditto, he said, of following voters around and recording information about them.

And the Ku Klux Klan Act, Arellano said, bars “conspiracies to interfere with federal elections.” He also told the judge that law does not require anyone to prove that actors were motivated by racial or other bias.

The Federal Court has scheduled a hearing on this motion for 10:00 a.m Tuesday morning (CV 22-01823-PHX-MTL) in front of Judge Michael Liburdi, Phoenix Courtroom #504, 5th Floor.

[Liburdi was one of the Republican Party’s redistricting lawyers along with David Cantelme in 2011. A judgeship was his reward.]

UPDATE: The League of Women Voters has also sued this MAGA/QAnon voter intimidation groups. Two lawsuits filed to stop intimidation at ballot drop boxes:

A federal lawsuit by the League of Women Voters of Arizona is aiming to stop extremist groups from surveilling dropboxes in Maricopa and Yavapai and counties. 

The nonprofit Protect Democracy Project is representing the League of Women Voters of Arizona in the case. It seeks to bar three groups — the Arizona chapter of the Oath Keepers, the Yavapai County-based Lions of Liberty and Clean Elections USA, which is run by QAnon linked Melody Jennings — from continuing to surveil drop boxes. 

The case accuses the groups of violating the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voter intimidation, and the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which outlaws conspiring to “prevent, by force, intimidation, or threat, any citizen who is lawfully entitled to vote, from giving his support or advocacy in a legal manner.”

“We expect it to move fairly quickly,” Will Ganoa, the state policy advocate for the Protect Democracy Project, said. “There are two weeks of voting left and time is of the essence.”

Protect Democracy Project is asking that the court make the groups cease their activity and award punitive damages for intimidating voters[.]

* * *

Jim Arroyo, the leader of the Arizona Oath Keepers who is mentioned in the complaint, said in a July meeting that the group sent out an email to the more than 1,000 people on the group’s roster.

“For the November election, we would like to post people there, in addition to the cameras, to have eyes on target to be able to notify law enforcement,” Arroyo said, referring to the cameras the Yavapai County Recorder’s Office has already installed on the drop boxes around the county. “We have already coordinated with Sheriff (David) Rhodes, and he told us that, if we see somebody stuffing a ballot box and if we get a license plate, they will make an arrest and there will be a prosecution.”

Arroyo’s Oath Keepers are working with Lions of Liberty on what they call “Operation Dropbox,” a measure to watch all the drop boxes in Yavapai County. Their plan is to have “patriots” (sic) watch the drop boxes and report alleged incidents of “ballot box stuffing” to the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office.

“Neither Defendants nor their volunteers will be able to determine whether people who deposit ballots are doing so lawfully as caregivers, family members, or household members of a voter,” the complaint says, referring to the people who can drop off ballots under state law. “Nevertheless, Defendants and their volunteers intend to photograph and report these individuals to law enforcement despite lacking any evidence of wrongdoing.”

Yavapai County is also at the center of another effort led by former Graham County Sheriff Richard Mack, who leads the anti-government extremist organization the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association.

Mack met with the Arizona Oath Keepers this month to discuss “election integrity” and an initiative led by True the Vote and Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, according to CSPOA’s website. Mack’s group has been investigating alleged “voter fraud” with far-right Sheriffs across the country, often attempting to do things outside of their duties and jurisdictions such as impounding voting machines.

CSPOA and the Oath Keepers have long had close ties, according to researchers.

But in Maricopa County, the drop box monitoring is part of what’s called “Dropbox Initiative 2022.” The effort is led by conspiracy theorist Melody Jennings, whose website refers to “mules” repeatedly. On former President Donald Trump’s Twitter clone, Truth Social, Jennings has said that “ballot trafficking mules are about to be completely doxxed and put on blast at every drop box across America starting VERY SOON!”

Doxxing is the act of releasing a person’s private information, such as their personal phone number and physical address online. In the post, Jennings tagged Gregg Phillips, one of the main people behind the false claims in the film “2,000 Mules.”

The film has even been a major talking point on campaign trails this year, with gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake even paying over $3,000 to host a screening of the film earlier this year. It has radicalized people across the country to watch drop boxes to prevent supposed fraud. Ganoa said he hopes the lawsuit makes people think twice.

“It puts the Average Joe on notice that this conduct is illegal and the people engaging in it could include a lawsuit from the folks who are intimidated by this conduct,” Ganoa said, noting that the case includes unnamed defendants that Protect Democracy Project hopes to identify during the discovery process. “To properly put a stop to this conduct, figuring out who is engaging in it is important.”




Advertisement