Voto Latino leads the charge against voter intimidation in Arizona
The suit is directed at Clean Elections USA and its founder Melody Jennings over recent voter intimidation in Maricopa County.
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On Monday, Oct. 24, Voto Latino, and the Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans (AARA) filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Arizona seeking a restraining order against grassroots group, Clean Elections USA and its founder Melody Jennings for alleged voter intimidation.
The two groups argue that on at least five different occasions in the last week, the group was surveilling ballot boxes in Maricopa County in addition to intimidating individuals dropping off their ballots.
"Immediate relief is necessary," the lawsuit says. "Voting is already underway, and there are only 15 days left until election day. Defendants’ organized vigilante groups have already turned away voters."
The motion asks the court to stop the group's volunteers from gathering within seeing distance of the drop boxes in addition to taking photos or recording videos of voters, prospective voters, and/or people assisting them. The two groups say Clean Elections USA is violating the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, laws passed to prevent voter intimidation during the Reconstruction and Civil Rights eras.
“No one should be subject to harassment and intimidation in the process of casting a ballot,” said Maria Teresa Kumar, President and CEO of Voto Latino. “The right to vote is sacred, and we can’t allow conspiracy theorists to use vigilante tactics to prevent anyone from casting their vote safely and without the threat of violence.”
The lawsuit says that people volunteering or working for Clean Elections USA have "gathered at ballot drop boxes in Maricopa County with the express purpose of deterring voters... from depositing their ballots.”
“Older Arizonans are the most likely to vote by early ballot, and must be confident that they can easily and safely deposit their ballots at a drop box,” said Saundra Cole, President of the Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans. “We will take all necessary steps to stop the intimidation and harassment of seniors and all Arizonans who exercise their precious right to vote.”
Both AARA and Voto Latino also cited an escalation in the efforts, and national news outlets also recently picked up the presence of men in tactical gear and armed with rifles standing watch over the ballot drop boxes.
Per Clean Election USA’s website, the goal is to "legally deter people from committing voter fraud" by surveilling drop box locations with a team.
"We are looking for true patriots to take a stand and watch the drop boxes," it says. "We want to gather video (and live witness evidence) of any ballot tampering that takes place in real time. Are you willing to take a shift in a team of patriots to watch these locations and take notes/video of any suspicious activity within what the laws of your state permit?"
According to the motion, Clean Elections USA, which is self labeled as a nationwide effort, began its surveillance activities in response to a debunked conspiracy theory that said people known as "mules" are part of "a shadowy, sprawling political cabal" that "collects or forges absentee ballots and deposits them in drop boxes."
According to a press release from Voto Latino on the matter, at least five Arizona voters have filed three complaints with the state Secretary of State’s office saying people who identified themselves as with Clean Elections USA, were photographing them and their license plates and accusing the prospective voters of illegal activities.
Law enforcement also responded to the previously-mentioned reports of people wearing tactical gear and displaying firearms stationing themselves near drop boxes. A sheriff in Phoenix has also increased security near ballot drop boxes.
Jennings nor Clean Elections USA have commented on the matter as of Wednesday, Oct. 26.