Federal Judge: Arizona Group May Monitor Voting Drop Boxes

A federal judge in Arizona ruled on Friday that a group organized for the purpose of monitoring absentee ballot drop boxes may not be restricted from their activities conducted in accordance with election laws that are designed to prevent illegal ballot harvesting and fraud.

The Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans (AARA) and Voto Latino (VL) filed the lawsuit against Clean Elections USA (CEUSA) and its organizer, Melody Jennings. The plaintiffs asked the federal judge to enter a restraining order preventing CEUSA volunteers from behavior they described as “voter intimidation” and “threatening.”

In the Friday order, U.S. District Judge Michael T. Liburdi of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona ruled that a restraining order is not legally appropriate, which permits CEUSA to continue its work to ensure election integrity in the state through Election Day on November 8.

Judge Liburdi was appointed to the federal bench by President Donald Trump in 2019.

The motion for a restraining order claimed that CEUSA was engaging in voter intimidation in violation of federal civil rights laws. Attorneys for CEUSA argued that the monitoring of voting drop boxes is protected by the First Amendment. The plaintiffs responded by saying the First Amendment does not apply because the activity constitutes a “true threat” as defined in the law.

Judge Liburdi heard evidence from witnesses who said CEUSA volunteers were allegedly armed and wearing “tactical gear” while taking video of people using drop boxes in Maricopa County. After hearing the evidence and the arguments of the attorneys on both sides, Judge Liburdi denied the motion for a restraining order.

Liburdi wrote in his ruling that CEUSA has not made “any statements threatening to commit acts of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals.” He also found there was no evidence presented that CEUSA has publicly identified any voter or posted any information that could possibly identify individual voters.

Liburdi also found that CEUSA had instructed its volunteers to obey all distance regulations and other laws involving public assembly.

Because there were no true threats made against any voter or potential voter, Liburdi found the protections of the First Amendment apply to CEUSA’s activities. He wrote, “It is well-established that there is a First Amendment right to film matters of public interest.” As a result, he said there was no way he could “craft a meaningful form of injunctive relief” that would not violate the First Amendment rights of CEUSA and its volunteer drop box observers.

The denial of the motion does not end the lawsuit, and the case will be permitted to proceed for the time being. However, the denial of the motion means that CEUSA is permitted to continue legally observing activities involving Arizona voting drop boxes.