WASHINGTON – The Justice Department on Monday indicated support of an Arizona lawsuit accusing groups monitoring ballot drop boxes of illegal voter intimidation.
“When private citizens form ‘ballot security forces’ and attempt to take over the State’s legitimate role of overseeing and policing elections, the risk of voter intimidation—and violating federal law—is significant,” the Justice Department wrote in a “statement of interest” in the case.
The DOJ described filming or harassing voters as examples of “vigilante ballot security measures,” suggesting those behaviors violate the federal Voting Rights Act.
In its complaint filed Oct. 25, the League of Women Voters claims that organized efforts to monitor voters, sometimes carrying firearms or wearing military tactical gear, is a “scheme” that undermines voters’ rights to cast ballots free of intimidation, threat or coercion.
The civics group also claims the defendants are affiliated with the Oath Keepers, a right-wing militia group on trial in a D.C. federal court for seditious conspiracy in relation to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
Attorneys for Oklahoma resident Melody Jennings, the founder of the conservative Clean Elections USA group that has organized at least some drop box monitoring, have said the proposed injunctions in both suits are too broad and would infringe on the observers’ First Amendment rights.
“Our clients have a right to film and photograph, especially in areas that are on the street or public buildings,” said attorney Alexander Kolodin at Monday’s status hearing. “These are not places where individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy.”
The department’s filing comes just days after a federal judge in Arizona declined to stop ballot drop box monitors from gathering outside voting locations in the state, writing in his decision that he struggled to “craft a meaningful form of injunctive relief that does not violate Defendants’ First Amendment rights and those of the drop box observers.”
That lawsuit, filed by the Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans and Voto Latino, was appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Contributing: Sasha Hupka, Arizona Republic
Story Credit: usatoday.com