Imagine requesting a totally legal mail-in ballot, filling it out and heading to a drop box to cast your vote, only to be met by armed goons in paramilitary gear who claim to be guarding against election fraud.
That scene is repeating itself around the country with early voting underway, and the goons are in no way affiliated with local elections officials; instead they’re associated with a movement on the far right aimed at intimidating people who cast absentee ballots, fueled by batshit conspiracy theories and trutherism about the 2020 presidential election.
Yesterday U.S. District Court Judge Michael Liburdi said, “no more,” ordering armed members of the right wing extremist group Clean Elections USA to stay at least 250 feet from ballot boxes in Arizona and telling them they can neither record or follow anyone within 75 feet of a drop box or the entrance of a building that has one.
Liburdi’s ruling puts a collar, at least in one state, on a nasty voter intimidation tactic that recalls some of the worst remnants of the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras. Though Clean Elections USA and groups like it aren’t specifically singling out Black voters, their appearance in tactical gear and at times with weapons, adds a menacing aspect to a broader national strategy that conservatives have employed to legitimize election fallacies. They’ve also used legislatures, law enforcement and third-party groups to tamp down voter turnout by people more likely to support left-leaning candidates.
In states like Florida, Georgia, Texas, Alabama and others, Republican-controlled legislatures have passed measures restricting access to ballot drop boxes, limiting early voting hours and imposing onerous voter ID rules even in areas where government offices that issue state identification credentials have been shuttered. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has empowered a so-called election police force that over the summer arrested 20 people on allegations of voter fraud, many of whom had been told by local elections officials that they were allowed to vote. One of those cases was recently tossed out by a judge.
But the Arizona tactics might be the scariest of them all.
Local and federal law enforcement have been alarmed by reports of people, some armed, watching 24-hour ballot boxes in the two counties as midterm elections near. Some voters have complained alleging voter intimidation after people watching the boxes took photos and videos and followed voters.
Sheriff’s deputies have been providing security around the two outdoor drop boxes in Maricopa County after a pair of people carrying guns and wearing bulletproof vests showed up at a box in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa. The county’s other 24-hour outdoor drop box is at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center in downtown Phoenix, which is now surrounded by a chain link fence.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, has called on voters to immediately report any intimidation to police and file a complaint with his office.