The Justice Department on Monday said that a group monitoring ballot drop boxes in Arizona is likely violating voter intimidation laws, The Washington Post reports.
A right-wing group, some of whose members are armed and wore tactical gear, have been filmed confronting voters using drop boxes around the state.
The DOJ in a statement of interest backing a lawsuit by the League of Women Voters of Arizona said that such “vigilante ballot security measures” likely run afoul of the Voting Rights Act.
“When private citizens form ‘ballot security forces’ and attempt to take over the State’s legitimate role of overseeing and policing elections, the risk of voter intimidation — and violating federal law — is significant,” the DOJ said in the filing.
The League of Women Voters lawsuit alleged right-wingers organized “widespread campaigns to surveil and intimidate Arizona voters at ballot drop boxes and baselessly accuse them” of voter fraud.
Outcry over harassment:
Election officials from both parties have decried the efforts to surveil drop boxes.
“To have folks standing outside of drop boxes, armed in tactical gear, with body armor, that is unprecedented,” Bill Gates, the chair of the Republican-led Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, told the Post. “There is a limit — there’s a balance between the First Amendment rights that people have and also the right that people have to not feel intimidated when voting. That point was made very strongly.”
Judge refuses to block:
The filing comes after Trump-appointed U.S. District Judge Michael Liburdi on Friday refused in a related case to block the groups from monitoring the drop boxes, arguing there was insufficient evidence for the court to intervene in activity protected by the First Amendment.
The DOJ argued that while the First Amendment “protects expressive conduct and peaceable assembly generally, it affords no protection for threats of harm directed at voters.”