Arizona sheriff tightens security around ballot boxes

“Every day I spend a tremendous amount of resources just to give people the confidence that they can vote safely, and that’s nonsense,” Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said during an interview. a press conference. Penzone said his office referred two incidents to county prosecutors for possible criminal charges.

Fueled by former President Donald Trump’s 2020 false fraud allegations and the debunked film ‘2,000 mules’, drop boxes have become a hotbed of conspiracy theories alleging without evidence that people illegally collected and deposited there. ballot papers.

Election security experts and officials from Trump’s National Security and Justice Department said there was not enough fraud to alter the outcome of the 2020 election. Dozens of lawsuits filed after the election have been thrown out, many of them by Trump-appointed judges.

Arizona, the state with the smallest margin of victory for President Joe Biden two years ago, now has some of the most high-profile midterm races in the country, including a potentially tipping Senate race. the balance of power in Congress.

“Uninformed vigilantes outside Maricopa County drop boxes do not increase election integrity,” said Stephen Richer, Maricopa County Recorder, and Bill Gates, Chairman of the Board of Oversight. of the county, in a joint statement this weekend. “Instead, they lead to complaints of voter intimidation.”

Both Richer and Gates are Republicans.

Voters who dropped off with Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs say they were filmed and, in some cases, followed by people monitoring drop boxes.

“As we approached our car, two individuals took photos of our license plate and car,” one voter wrote. “I came out and asked what they were doing. They claimed they were taking pictures for “election security” and I took pictures of them to report to the DOJ for intimidating and harassing voters. »

When asked at an independent event on Monday whether he was concerned about reported bullying in states like Arizona and whether the Justice Department would get involved, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the ministry had an obligation to “ensure a free and fair vote by all who are qualified to vote and will not allow voters to be intimidated.

A group of drop box monitors seen filming a drop box in Maricopa County last week told a local reporter they were with Clean Elections USA, a group that assembles teams to monitor drop boxes in multiple states this midterm season.

The group’s founder, Melody Jennings, said in a podcast interview last month that she wanted 10 volunteers to record drop boxes around the country on a rotating basis, day and night.

Jennings said she wants volunteers to stay away from drop boxes and obey local laws. But she added they should sit in a visible place to act as a ‘human shield’ which would deter potential voting ‘mules’ from coming to the polls.

There is no evidence for the idea that a network of voting “mules” associated with Democrats conspired to collect and deliver ballots to the polls, despite claims made in a film about the 2020 election.

Two left-wing advocacy groups filed a lawsuit Monday against Clean Elections USA, alleging the group’s ballot-monitoring activities violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871. Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans and Voto Latino are asking the US District Court of Phoenix to ban the group from gathering at drop boxes and filming voters.

Arizona State Senator Kelly Townsend, who earlier this year praised and encouraged “all vigilantes who want to camp in these drop boxes,” tweeted Monday that wearing tactical gear while watching drop boxes “could be considered voter intimidation.”

“Don’t do it,” Townsend wrote.

Penzone, the sheriff, implored people to respect everyone’s right to vote and leave it up to law enforcement to investigate alleged violations of the law. He said the focus on securing elections has diverted resources from investigating crimes.

“But we will come and watch the polls because people have to misbehave if that’s what we’re going to do to protect democracy,” said Penzone, a Democrat.

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