Court Battles

Federal judge declines to block group from monitoring Arizona ballot drop boxes

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File
The warehouse at the Maricopa County Elections Department stores all the equipment and signage for all the voting precincts in Phoenix, Sept. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

A federal judge on Friday rejected a request to bar a group that wants to observe ballot drop box locations in an Arizona county from doing so, ruling that it would infringe on “core constitutional rights.” 

U.S. District Judge Michael Liburdi ruled against the motion from the Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans, which works to educate and mobilize senior citizens to engage in activism and voting, and Voto Latino, which encourages Latinos to vote and be politically engaged. 

The groups argued that members of the group that wants to monitor the boxes, Clean Elections USA, would intimidate voters and have violated the Voting Rights Act and the Ku Klux Klan Act. 

Liburdi, who was appointed by former President Trump, ruled that Voto Latino did not have standing to bring the lawsuit, but the Arizona Alliance did. 

The text of the Voting Rights Act states that no one can “intimidate, threaten or coerce” or attempt to for anyone voting or trying to vote. But Liburdi said in his ruling that any definition of intimidation needs to account for constitutional rights and that the intended conduct from the organization is protected under the First Amendment. 

He also said the plaintiff did not provide any evidence that the defendant’s conduct constitutes a “true threat” that would create an exception to the First Amendment. 

The Ku Klux Klan Act prohibits conspiracies to “interfere with federal elections.” But the plaintiff must demonstrate that a conspiracy exists and that it is intended to threaten, intimidate or force someone who is engaging in activity related to voting. 

Liburdi ruled that the Arizona Alliance did not demonstrate that Clean Elections USA intends to prevent lawful voting and the defendant has stated that it only wishes to deter unlawful voting and ballot harvesting. 

Liburdi ruled that the plaintiff is unlikely to succeed on the merits of their case and denied their request for a preliminary injunction. 

He said “serious questions” have been raised in the case, but an injunction cannot be issued without infringing on constitutional rights. 

Melody Jennings formed Clean Elections USA after she viewed the film 2000 Mules, a film created by the conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, purporting to reveal rampant voter fraud at the polls in 2020.

Clean Elections USA organized to monitor two early voting ballot locations in Maricopa County, which was crucial to President Biden’s victory in the state. Arizona Republicans launched an audit of ballots in the county in the election’s aftermath, which ultimately confirmed Biden’s victory in the county and state. 

Liburdi allowed Arizona Alliance to return to the court with any new evidence that Clean Elections USA is engaging in unlawful voter intimidation. Arizona Alliance and Voto Latino filed an appeal Friday to the ruling to a federal appeals court. 

The Associated Press reported that election monitors must remain at least 75 feet from a voting location.

Tags 2000 Mules ballot drop boxes Biden Clean Elections USA maricopa county Trump
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