Right-wing Vigilantes Sued for Intimidating Arizona Voters

WASHINGTON, D.C. On Monday, Oct. 24, the Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans and Voto Latino filed a lawsuit against Clean Elections USA, its affiliates and unidentified individuals (who allegedly have been “recruited or encouraged” by Clean Elections USA to monitor drop boxes) challenging the organization’s voter intimidation practices in Arizona. The plaintiffs allege that there were at least five instances last week wherein Clean Elections USA supporters “gathered at ballot drop boxes in Maricopa County with the express purpose of deterring voters.” The plaintiffs argue that Clean Elections USA’s alleged “coordinated campaign of vigilante voter intimidation” practices violate both the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871. The plaintiffs request immediate relief preventing Clean Elections USA from further engaging in intimidation practices as Arizonans have begun early voting and there are only 15 days until Election Day.

This lawsuit comes after multiple instances of voter intimidation in Arizona were reported last week. When a voter was photographed and followed by a group of individuals while driving home to Phoenix after attempting to drop off their ballot at one of the two early voting drop box locations in Maricopa County, the Arizona secretary of state’s office referred this report of voter intimidation to the Arizona attorney general and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Later in the week, the Arizona secretary of state’s office referred two more reports of voter intimidation — again at drop boxes in Maricopa County — to the Arizona attorney general and DOJ.

The plaintiffs argue that Clean Elections USA was formed to intimidate voters in the wake of the debunked “2000 Mules” propaganda movie that spread false claims of voter fraud by painting voters as “mules” — “a term arising from a debunked conspiracy theory in which a shadowy, sprawling political cabal collects or forges absentee ballots and deposits them in drop boxes.” The plaintiffs note that Clean Elections USA’s founder, Melody Jennings, has “repeatedly and openly” stated that the purpose of Clean Elections USA is “to discourage the use of drop boxes.” The plaintiffs allege that the purpose behind Jennings’ efforts to “recruit[] a network of large groups deployed across Arizona at drop boxes is clear—to prevent voters from approaching drop boxes and using those tools to vote.” The plaintiffs argue that the defendants’ claim that they are deterring “ballot mules” is defunct: ‘“ballot mules’ are an invention of a debunked propaganda film; they do not exist. The people that Defendants are actually seeking to intimidate to prevent them from using ballot drop boxes are simply voters.” The plaintiffs further note that Jennings “has threatened to use the images and video captured by those crowds to ‘dox’ people; that is posting online a person’s personal information, opening them up to harassment by the general public.”

In today’s complaint, the voting rights groups detail several instances of alleged voter intimidation last week. The plaintiffs cite an incident from Oct. 17 where a voter filed a complaint with the state reporting “that a group of individuals were filming and photographing voters as they approached the drop box outside of the Maricopa County’s Mesa Juvenile Court. These drop box monitors also accused these voters of being ‘a mule.’ These monitors also took photographs of the voters’ license plate, of the voters, and followed the voters into the parking lot all while continuing to film.” The plaintiffs cite another incident in which “Maricopa County [sheriff’s office] responded to complaints about two individuals stationed around the Mesa drop box in the evening with full disguises, tactical ​​gear, and magazine clips.” The Maricopa County sheriff’s office later confirmed the cited individuals were armed.

Screenshot of two tweets by Nicole Grigg with an attached picture of two armed individuals in tactical gear in a parking lot. The text of the screenshot says "BREAKING: @MCSOAZ tells @ABC15 they are looking into several individuals watching a voter drop box in Mesa, AZ." The second Tweet says "MCSO confirms two individuals were armed."

In response to the reports of Clean Elections USA supporters in tactical gear, Jennings posted on Truth Social defending the right of these individuals to be armed: 

Screen shot of Truth Social Post from @trumperMel which reads, "Someone called in seeing 2 of our people in tactical gear and armed. They will always gear up for a call like that. Thankfully wearing tactical gear and carrying in our country where the right to bear arms is an inalienable right, can and should be respected, especially when the goal is protecting the sovereign rights granted of every American citizen to a free and fair election. To me it was all a win/win."

The plaintiffs allege that the defendants’ actions violate Section 11(b) of the VRA, which prohibits voter intimidation, and the Ku Klux Klan Act, which prohibits “‘conspir[ing] to prevent, by force, intimidation, or threat, any citizen who is lawfully entitled to vote, from giving his support or advocacy in a legal manner.”’ The plaintiffs request that the defendants be temporarily and permanently prevented from “[g]athering within sight of drop boxes,” “[f]ollowing, taking photos of, or otherwise recording voters or prospective voters, those assisting voters or prospective voters, or their vehicles at or around a drop box” and “[t]raining, organizing, or directing others to do the same.” The plaintiffs argue that, without such relief, “voters will be subjected to intimidation, threats, and perhaps even force or physical harm at the hands of vigilante drop box watchers.” 

Read the complaint here.

Learn more about the case here.

Learn more about voter intimidation in Arizona here.