Judge considers preventing ballot drop box watchers in Arizona

Elections 2022

FILE – In this Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020 file photo, volunteers help voters as voters drop off their ballots at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office in Phoenix. An Associated Press investigation has found county election officials throughout Arizona have identified fewer than 200 cases of potential voter fraud from last year’s presidential election that require review by local prosecutors. The findings undermine claims by former President Donald Trump and his allies that widespread fraud is to blame for his loss in Arizona. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

(NewsNation) — In Arizona, a federal judge says he hopes to have a decision by Friday on whether to order members of a group to stop monitoring outdoor ballot drop boxes in the Phoenix area.

U.S. District Judge Michael Liburdi’s remarks come after efforts by the group Clean Elections USA sparked allegations of voter fraud. Two other groups asked Judge Liburdi to prevent Clean Elections USA members from gathering within sight of drop boxes in Maricopa County and from gathering footage of voters and their cars. Liburdi’s decision is expected Friday, but it could carry over into the weekend.

This comes after the sheriff in Phoenix announced an increase in security measures following several incidents involving ballot drop boxes, including a case of armed, masked “vigilantes” in Maricopa County.

On Friday, two armed, masked individuals in tactical gear were found near a drop box for early voting. They left the area after law enforcement responded. There have also been reported incidents of people taking video at drop boxes.

Former President Donald Trump’s false claims of widespread election fraud have prompted activists to mobilize across the country to monitor voting.

The Arizona secretary of state’s office has reported claims of voter intimidation, including reports that voters were photographed and even followed while casting their vote.

“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,” Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said during a news conference.

“For those who want to be involved in election integrity, become a poll worker or an official observer with your political party. Don’t dress in body armor to intimidate voters as they are legally returning their ballots,” Maricopa Recorder Stephen Richter and county board of supervisors Chairman Bill Gates wrote in a joint statement.

Arizona state Sen. Kelly Townsend warned on Twitter that watching drop boxes in tactical gear could be considered voter intimidation. At the same time, she urged people to continue to watch for “ballot stuffing” and report incidents.

One group caught filming drop boxes told a local reporter they were with Clean Elections USA, a group that supports Trump’s claims of voter fraud.

Arizona law prohibits carrying weapons and taking photographs or video within a 75-foot radius of a voting location.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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