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Ballot box watchers in Arizona face lawsuits by voting-rights advocates

New court cases target 'surveillance-and-intimidation campaigns' at drop boxes for early ballots. One defendant was hit with 3 legal actions in 24 hours.

PHOENIX — The League of Women Voters of Arizona filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday alleging that an array of right-wing groups are trying to intimidate voters at ballot drop boxes in two Arizona counties.

"These surveillance-and-intimidation campaigns," the lawsuit says, "are simply modern-day efforts to engage in illegal voter intimidation by forcing voters who want to cast their ballots by drop box to do so while being surveilled by vigilantes and under the threat that they will be baselessly accused of voter fraud."

The lawsuit, as well as another one filed Monday by voting rights advocates, asks the court to block the defendants from intimidation 

Both suits contend the defendants are violating the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, laws enacted during Reconstruction and the Civil Rights era to prevent voter intimidation.  

The defendants in the new suit include the Lions of Liberty and a sister organization called the Yavapai County Preparedness Team, which separated from the Oath Keepers after the Jan. 6 insurrection. 

Clean Elections USA and its QAnon-linked founder, Melody Jennings, are also named as defendants. Clean Elections USA has recruited dropbox watchers.

Jennings has now been named in three legal actions in Arizona in 24 hours, as a result of her recruitment of dropbox watchers.

The Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission sent a cease-and-desist letter to Jennings on Tuesday. The commission demands that Jennings' group stop using the Clean Elections name by Thursday, or face legal action.

Representatives of the defendant organizations couldn't be reached for comment. Defendants in these kinds of lawsuits typically assert a First Amendment free speech right to be present near a polling place.

"Defendants Jennings and Clean Elections USA are scheming to baselessly accuse voters of being 'mules' and to 'dox them (publicly reveal their personal information online)," the lawsuit says. 

The result would be "unjustifiably exposing voters to harm to not only their reputations, but also their safety," the lawsuit says

The presence of election vigilantes at early-ballot dropboxes has become a major concern during the first two weeks of voting in Arizona.

State and county officials have been quick to respond.

Since the start of early voting 13 days ago, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has referred six reports of alleged voter intimidation, all in Maricopa County, to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Arizona Attorney General's Office.

RELATED: Maricopa County sheriff increases security at ballot drop-off locations

Two men who brandished weapons near a ballot dropbox in Mesa face possible criminal charges, pending a review by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

RELATED: 2 armed individuals in tactical gear reported standing outside Mesa ballot box

Maricopa County Sherriff Paul Penzone said Tuesday that the county's two dropboxes -- at the Mesa courts complex and the county's election headquarters downtown -- would be under "consistent surveillance," with a greater law-enforcement presence during the evening. 

RELATED: 'It is unacceptable': Alleged case of voter intimidation in Maricopa County under investigation

"We're gonna do everything necessary to keep people safe," he told reporters Monday. "We'll come and we'll babysit polling sites, because people have to misbehave if that's what we have to do to protect democracy."

Decision 2022

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