First Amendment Lawsuit | Right to Assemble

Arizona Federal District Judge Restricts Interference of Poll-Watching Group

In this Reuters file photo, a view of a Coconino County drop box which is used to accept early voting ballots outside the Coconino County Recorder’s office, which has made several security improvements including boulders lining the building, in Flagstaff, Arizona, Oct. 20, 2022. (Reuters/Michael Patacsil)

By Susanna Granieri

An Arizona federal district judge narrowed a poll-watching group’s ability to monitor ballot drop boxes by issuing restrictions on taking photos and videos of early voters and prohibiting the open carry of firearms and wearing tactical gear within 250 feet of a drop box.

The temporary restraining order, issued Nov. 1 by U.S. District Judge Michael Liburdi bars affiliates and members of the poll-watching group Clean Elections USA from taking photos and videos of people within 75 feet of a drop box; following, yelling or speaking to people dropping off ballots unless they’re engaged first; and standing within 75 feet of a drop box.

“Today’s U.S. District Court decision is a victory for the voters of Arizona who have the right to cast their ballots free from intimidation, threats, or coercion,” said Pinny Sheoran, president of the League of Women Voters of Arizona in a statement. The League of Women Voters of Arizona was joined with the Arizona Alliance of Retired Americans as plaintiffs in the case. “The League of Women Voters of Arizona is proud to have challenged activities that are presently interfering with voters’ right to cast a ballot safely and without fear, and we encourage voters to continue using drop boxes to vote.”

The order also includes two statements that Clean Elections USA Founder Melody Jennings must post on both the poll-watching group’s website as well as her profile on Truth Social. Also, both statements are required to remain posted on the sites until Election Day, Nov. 8.

The statements are required due to multiple instances, on Truth Social in which Jennings has claimed that voters who drop off more than one ballot are breaking the law. One statement requires Jennings to say that dropping off multiple ballots “is not always illegal,” as family members or caregivers are legally able to drop off more than one ballot.

The other statement, which Jennings is required to post solely on her Truth Social profile, states that “Any past statement that it is always illegal to deposit multiple ballots in a ballot drop box is incomplete; a family member, household member, or caregiver can legally do so.” 

Both statements must conclude with a copy of the temporary restraining order and the text of Arizona Revised Statutes 16-1005, which refer to ballot abuse and election conduct.

The restraining order will be in effect for 14 days, but Clean Elections USA is not responsible for any people who violate the order who are not in direct correspondence with the monitoring group.

According to the filing, the order included another section that Clean Elections USA contested, which prohibits the act of “doxxing” — or sharing personal information online — about early voters who the group may believe are acting fraudulently. The personal information that is prohibited from online sharing, according to the order, can include voters’ “identity, their distinguishing features, their license plate number” and “the model and make of [their] car.”

The order comes less than a week after Judge Liburdi denied a bid from the Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans and Voto Latino which noted instances of alleged voter intimidation from Clean Election USA members. The complaint filed by the League of Women Voters of Arizona included similar concerns, and the two cases merged.