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Arizona judge limits ballot box tracking by Clean Elections USA

Arizona judge limits ballot box tracking by Clean Elections USA

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A federal judge has ordered a group that monitors Arizona ballot boxes for signs of fraud to stay at least 75 feet from ballot boxes and publicly correct false statements its members have made about Arizona elections laws.

Far reaching row by U.S. District Judge Michael Liburdi dramatically limits what Clean Elections USA or its allies can do or say near the ballot box. This ruling prevents observers from taking photos or videos of voters and using the material to spread unfounded allegations of electoral fraud. Clean Elections USA is among the groups repeating unsubstantiated claims of fraud by former President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

The order, which imposes temporary restrictions, also requires the group to post online statements about drop box rules and prohibits it from making future false statements about Arizona election law.

Pinny Sheoran, president of the Arizona League of Women Voters, a plaintiff in the lawsuit against Clean Elections USA, called judgment “a victory for Arizona voters who have the right to vote without intimidation, threats or coercion.”

Clean Choices USA agreed to parts of the order but challenged others. An attorney representing the group and its founder said the group is likely to appeal on First Amendment grounds.

Sheoran’s group and other suffrage advocates filed two lawsuits against Clean Elections USA; the suits were then joined. Liburdi said his goal is to strike a balance between protecting the group’s First Amendment rights and federal law that prohibits voter intimidation.

Liburdi has been around for many years member of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group that believes the state should impose only limited restrictions on individual liberties and conform strictly to the US Constitution. He declined last week in a related case to block groups from the tracking box. He he said did not hear sufficient evidence in that case that the actions of members of Clean Elections USA posed a “genuine threat” to voters and concluded that it could not “craft a ban without violating the First Amendment.” That decision is being appealed.

A judge decided to grant a temporary restraining order in the case after hearing testimony Tuesday from a man who said he and his wife were harassed when they dropped their ballots in the box last month in Mesa, a city east of Phoenix.

The man, who testified anonymously for fear of harassment, said his wife was “terrified” when the couple went to collect their ballots and found up to 10 election observers with cameras waiting by the box.

He told the court that someone came up to him and said: “We’re hunting mules” – a reference to the discredited film “2000 Mules”, which claims the drop boxes were full of fraudulent ballots during the 2020 election. Clean Elections USA founder Melody Jennings later posted a photo of the man online, suggesting his behavior at the ballot box was suspicious.

Liburdi said the evidence presented at the hearing was “much stronger” and justified “this narrowly tailored form of relief”.

On Monday, the Justice Department filed a “statement of interest” in the case in which it claimed that monitoring of ballot boxes may constitute illegal voter intimidation.

The Justice Department says ballot box tracking in Ariz. is likely illegal

In Tuesday’s election, Arizona is once again a battleground — one of several states expected to decide a close battle for control of Congress, along with key statewide offices that have powers over election administration. Ahead of Election Day, state election officials say they have received complaints of intimidation or threatening behavior at the ballot box.

Ballot boxes are locked containers where voters can deposit their mail-in ballots, usually open 24 hours a day. They are an alternative for voters who do not wish to mail their ballots or have run out of time to do so.

Trump and his supporters have made the drop boxes a hotbed of baseless claims that they were used in a major scheme to submit fraudulent ballots during the 2020 presidential election.

The battle for control of the Senate is marked by volatility as the term approaches

Tuesday’s order extends to voters who use ballot drop boxes some of the same protections typically afforded to polling stations.

Clean Elections USA members have agreed to refrain from openly carrying firearms or wearing body armor within 250 feet of any ballot box; coming within 75 feet of ballot boxes or entrances to buildings where the boxes are placed; and deliberately follow people they know to drop off their ballots, or yell or talk to people within 75 feet of the ballot box, unless they are talked to or yelled at first.

The group and Jennings, its leader, also agreed to state publicly online and during Election Day that Arizona law allows people to cast multiple ballots in certain circumstances — correcting false statements Jennings made in public forums.

Liburdi’s order also prevents the group and its associates from recording or photographing anyone within 75 feet of a ballot box, or posting information online about anyone alleging voter fraud “based solely on the fact that they put multiple ballots in the box . ” Orders Clean Elections USA to “cease and desist from making false statements” about the Arizona statute covering ballot abuse until “the end of voting” on Nov. 8.

Alleged voter intimidation at a drop box in Arizona has officials on alert

The group challenged limits on making false claims under Arizona law and individual charges of voter fraud, as well as photographing or videotaping voters.

Alexander Kolodin, a lawyer for Clean Elections USA and Jennings, said the restrictions violated his client’s First Amendment right to free speech.

“We are very happy that the court did not shut down mailbox monitoring,” Kolodin said. according to to the Republic of Arizona. “What we can’t have is a 75-foot shooting limit. That’s a big First Amendment problem.”

The Justice Department said in its filing Monday that “videotaping or photographing voters during the voting process has long been known to raise particularly acute concerns.”

The Washington Post previously obtained copies of complaints pointed to law enforcement in Arizona showing that those methods of monitoring elections can trigger complaints of voter intimidation.

“I left my ballot at the Maricopa County Recorders office and there were two men recording everything as they walked by,” one voter wrote in a filing about his experience while voting in downtown Phoenix. “While this may not be illegal, it is very annoying and scary.”

Surveillance video obtained by The Post shows the man making out with someone off camera after he dropped his ballot into the box on Oct. 17. (Video: The Washington Post)

Amy Gardner, Tom Hamburger and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez contributed to this report.



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