early and often

Men in Tactical Gear Have Been Monitoring Ballot Drop Boxes in Arizona

Footage from outside a ballot drop box in Mesa, AZ. Photo: Maricopa County Elections Department

Since Joe Biden narrowly won Arizona in 2020, the state has become a hotbed of election denialism among a faction of Republicans. Now, with early voting underway in the midterms, some voters claim that they’re being watched, photographed, and even intimidated as they drop off their ballots at official ballot drop boxes — the method of voting that was at the center of many fraud claims in 2020. The secretary of State’s office is referring complaints to the U.S. Department of Justice, per the Arizona Republic.

In one complaint, the Washington Post reported that a voter in the Phoenix suburbs said he was confronted by people at a drop-box site.

“There’s a group of people hanging out near the ballot drop box filming and photographing my wife and I as we approached the drop box and accusing us of being a mule,” the voter wrote, referring to a term used to describe people believed to be illegally gathering ballots. “They took … photographs of our license plate and of us and then followed us out the parking lot in one of their cars continuing to film.”

Bill Gates, the Republican chairman of Maricopa County’s board of supervisors, condemned the actions.

“They’re harassing people. They’re not helping further the interests of democracy,” he said during a press conference. “If these people really wanna be involved in the process, learn more about it, come be a poll worker or a poll observer.”

The Maricopa County Elections Department shared images on Twitter from surveillance footage of two men dressed in tactical gear with covered faces outside of a ballot-box site in the city of Mesa on Friday. The men left after the county sheriff’s office responded to the scene.

According to the Associated Press, Maricopa County sheriff Paul Penzone said Monday that security surrounding the ballot drop boxes has been increased. During a press conference, Penzone said two cases of voter intimidation have been forwarded to county prosecutors.

“Every day I’m dedicating a considerable amount of resources just to give people confidence that they can cast a vote safely, and that is absurd,” he said.

The nationwide fervor around election-conspiracy theories that began in earnest in 2020 has only strengthened since then, particularly in Arizona. Though the state’s results were certified in November of that year, some state Republicans brought in the outside firm Cyber Ninjas to audit the vote. Even they did not find any evidence that the election was tainted. Nevertheless, in the governors race, Kari Lake, a former news anchor and Republican nominee, has fully embraced such lies. She’s running against Democrat Katie Hobbs, Arizona’s secretary of State who certified the results that year. In the race to replace Hobbs, Republicans selected Mark Finchem, a member of the state House of Representatives who introduced legislation to decertify the election results in three Arizona counties.

Finchem defended the recording of voters, writing in a tweet, “I think voters should hold mules and fraudsters accountable by recording them. If they are doing they right thing, they have nothing to fear. #JustFollowTheLaw.”

During an unrelated press conference on Monday, Attorney General Merrick Garland was asked about recent concerns surrounding elections including what’s happening in Arizona and whether the Department of Justice would intervene.

“The Justice Department has an obligation to guarantee a free and fair vote by everyone who is qualified to vote and will not permit voters to be intimidated,” he said.

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Men in Tactical Gear Have Been Monitoring Voting in Arizona