Lawsuit filed to stop vigilante surveillance of drop boxes in Arizona



CNN

The Arizona chapter of the League of Women Voters filed a lawsuit late Tuesday in federal court targeting groups and individuals they say are conspiring to intimidate Arizona voters through a coordinated effort known as “Operation Drop Box.”

A lawsuit was filed on behalf of the league in the US District Court for the District of Arizona by a group called Protect Democracy. This is the second recent lawsuit in federal court targeting the conduct of individuals shooting and filming voters at ballot drop boxes in Arizona — some of them armed.

The lawsuit alleges the conduct violates the Voting Rights Act and another federal law that prohibits conspiracies to intimidate voters. It is seeking a court order restraining the defendants from “further intimidating voters or violating the law.”

In the lawsuit, it argues that the conduct of the people monitoring the drop boxes in Yavapai and Maricopa counties is part of an “escalating scheme of voter intimidation and harassment in Arizona” that “undermines the rights of voters to freely exercise” their ballots by intimidation, intimidation or coercion.

The voting rights organization alleged that the Lions of Liberty LLC and the Yavapai County Preparedness Team — two groups the league claims are related to Yavapai County’s Oath Keepers — “actively schemed” with a group called Clean Elections USA. Coordinating and recruiting for an extensive campaign to stalk and intimidate Arizona voters at ballot drop boxes and to baselessly—directly or indirectly—commit voter fraud and spread false information about legally valid voting.

An official with the Yavapai County Preparedness Team declined to comment on the lawsuit when reached by CNN on Tuesday. An attorney for Clean Elections USA did not immediately respond to CNN’s inquiries. CNN reached out to the Lions of Liberty through the group’s website.

The suit notes that the behavior of the vigilantes — some of whom wore masks and tactical gear — was inspired by a debunked film called “2000 Mules,” which promoted a far-right conspiracy theory known as the “Ballet.” Mules” illegally dropped multiple ballot papers in drop boxes during the last election. The suit notes that the film has been “thoroughly discredited by experts” and includes “images of innocent voters voting legally” to “debunk a dangerous conspiracy theory.”

People putting out ballot drop boxes are promoting the lie that Arizonans are breaking the law when they deposit a ballot for another person — when in fact state law allows household members, caregivers and election officials to help voters by dropping off their ballots.

The lawsuit alleges that the Lions of Liberty and the Yavapai County Preparedness Team “engaged in an extensive campaign to monitor all drop boxes in Yavapai County, film voters and then report any voter depositing multiple ballots to law enforcement.” The plan involves asking “patriots” to monitor all drop boxes in the county on a shift and take pictures of any voter who deposits more than one ballot, as well as pictures of their car and license plates, and then report their findings to the Yavapai County Sheriff.

The league claims that Clean Elections USA and its founder, Melody Jennings, orchestrated a statewide campaign known as the “Dropbox Initiative 2022” to track and harass voters — aimed at baselessly accusing voters of being ‘mules’ and ‘doxing’ them. are publicly disclosing their personal information online,” the lawsuit said.

Earlier this week, a group of retirees and an organization of Latino voters sought a temporary restraining order against Clean Elections USA and its founder, Melody Jennings, accusing them of orchestrating a campaign of voter intimidation in Arizona.

U.S. District Judge Michael Liburdi said at Wednesday’s hearing that he hoped to issue his ruling in the case by Friday but said he would need the weekend to complete it.

The lawsuit alleges Clean Elections USA is violating federal law with incidents near ballot drop box locations in Arizona and points to three complaints filed by voters with state election officials.

The Arizona Secretary of State referred those and other similar threats to the US Department of Justice.

Veronica Lucero, an attorney for the defendants, pushed back on the charges Wednesday, telling jurors there was no direct evidence of her client’s conduct, which reportedly threatened Arizona election officials.

But attorneys for the plaintiffs introduced several witnesses who said they were horrified by the behavior of people at the polls across Arizona — some of them armed.

Two groups, the Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans and Voto Latino, filed a temporary injunction and preliminary injunction barring the defendants from “collecting within sight of drop boxes; taking photos of or recording voters or prospective voters, assisting voters or prospective voters, or following their vehicles in or around the drop box.” ; and by training, organizing or directing others to perform those activities.

This story was updated with additional information on Wednesday.

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