Fringe groups plan to monitor AZ ballot boxes
Fringe anti-government groups plan to monitor drop boxes and polls in Arizona, spurred by conspiracy theories. The groups’ sometimes violent rhetoric has supporters worried, and some local politicians are stirring the pot.
“We know where you are. You see us every day and you better believe we’re watching you,” says a video on a website that advocates monitoring drop boxes, run by an anonymous Arizona resident who is steeped in theories of the COVID and election conspiracy. “Don’t sleep too deeply. That noise you hear could be one of us.
The heightened focus on the ballot box follows the movie demystified 2000 mules by controversial conservative figure Dinesh D’Souza. Several of D’Souza’s films have focused on his political enemiesas good as mentioning his condemnation for campaign finance fraud. Former President Donald Trump pardoned D’Souza for this crime.
D’Souza’s film alleged that they were able to track “voting mules” using purchased geolocation data who were paid to fill ballot boxes with completed ballots. The practice, pejoratively called ballot harvesting, is illegal in Arizona.
Now, groups are holding events to keep tabs on drop boxes in Arizona in an effort to monitor alleged “mules” or other instances of wrongdoing in Arizona’s general election. One of these groups is directly linked to the Arizona chapter of the Oath Keepers, a anti-government extremist group.
The Yavapai County Prep Team is the Arizona chapter of the Oath Keepers and is working with a group called the Freedom Lions on what they call “Operation Drop Box.”
On its website, members of the group describe themselves as “conservative patriots” who say the country has been hijacked and undermined by “global elites, communists, leftists, deep state bureaucrats and fake news “.
Jim Arroyo, the Arizona Oath Keepers chapter leader, said in a video from their July meeting that the group emailed everyone in the group, which included 1,000 people.
“For the November elections, we would like to send people there in addition to the cameras to have our eyes on the target so that we can warn law enforcement,” Arroyo said during the meeting, referring to the cameras that the Yavapai County Recorder’s office has already installed. drop boxes around the county. “We’ve already coordinated with Sheriff Rhodes and he’s told us that if we see someone filling a ballot box and we get a license plate, he’ll make an arrest and there will be charges.”
Yavapai County Sheriff David Rhodes spoke to the Arizona Chapter of the Oath Keepers twice, the Arizona Mirror confirmed.
“I have to tell you that this is one of my favorite bands. It’s great to be with friends,” Rhodes said in a August 2021 meetingalso noting that his predecessor was present and had spoken at previous meetings.
“Sheriff Rhodes has nothing to do with their efforts to monitor drop boxes,” Yavapai County spokeswoman Kristin Greene told the Mirror when asked about coordination between the sheriff, the Lions of the liberty and the keepers of the oath. Previous versions of the Lions of Liberty website indicated that the group get in touch with Rhodes; these references have now been removed.
Rhodes spoke again to the group in late September, a meeting that the sheriff’s office said was to educate the group on what was legal and what was not legal for the group. The Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office told the group members that as long as they stayed 75 feet from the drop boxes, they were within their legal rights, but any closer and they could be violating the law.
“Any intimidation by anyone, of any voter is something this office takes seriously,” Greene said.
Yavapai County Recorder Michelle Burchill told the Mirror the 75ft limit may not be enforceable, however, the office continues to work diligently to ensure that cameras installed on all drop boxes are functioning properly, a preventative measure taken to move ahead of likely impending legislation.
“We kind of anticipate that the future of the legislature is going to ask or require cameras, so we felt we should get ahead of the game and if that gives our constituents an extra sense of security,” Burchill told About the cameras.
Burchill called the Liberty Lions “citizens concerned about feeling they are doing their civic duty,” but she fears voters may feel uncomfortable or intimidated. She urged anyone who feels this way to contact law enforcement or their office directly.
“If there is anything concerning or something that needs immediate attention [The Recorder] would direct them to the sheriff’s department,” Burchill said.
The county is also at the center of another effort led by former Graham County Sheriff Richard Mack, who leads the anti-government extremist organization the Association of Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers.
Mack met with the Arizona Oath Keepers this month to discuss “election integrity” and an initiative led by the group behind D’Souza’s flawed film and Mark Lamb, Pinal County Sheriff, according to the CSPOA website. Mack’s group investigated alleged ‘voter fraud’ with far-right sheriffs across the country often attempt to do things outside of their duties and skills, such as confiscating voting machines.
The CSPOA and the Oath Keepers have a long and close relationship, according to researchers.
Greene said Sheriff Rhodes was not a member of the CSPOA.
“Every sheriff is a constitutional sheriff,” Greene said.
Others share Burchill’s concerns but also worry about oath keepers monitoring polls and drop boxes, especially given their history.
“I certainly have concerns given the reputation of the Oath Keepers and the language of some of these organizations,” Sean Morales-Doyle, director of the voting rights program at the Brennan Center for Justice, told the Mirror.
Many groups throughout the history of the United States have engaged in poll watching, both partisan and non-partisan, but more recently in the 1980s poll watching has led to a consent current decree member of the Republican National Committee for decades due to a number of activities, including dispatching off-duty armed police to polling stations.
“The important question is what effect it has on the voter,” Morales-Doyle said, adding that standing around a drop box if done “passively” might be acceptable, but when it is associated with a certain rhetoric, it creates greater concerns.
In a recent interview, GOP Secretary of State nominee Mark Finchem urged people to download a smartphone app that encourages users to take photos and videos of alleged voter fraud to create a “database.” national”.
“You can take a picture of a dummy ballot, you can make a video of someone walking up to a ballot box and filling it with ballots, you can take a picture of their license plate on their car,” Finchem said. “Ordinary citizens, if you see something, take a picture and say something.”
Finchem is far from alone in pushing locals to do similar things. Senator Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction, during a hearing into evidence of alleged voter fraud found by the group behind D’Souza’s flawed Townsend film called the “vigilants” to camp on drop boxes.
“I was so happy to hear about all the vigilantes who want to camp in these drop boxes,” Townsend said at the end of a legislative hearing lasting almost two hours by True the Vote, a conservative group that supports restrictive election laws to combat what it calls massive voter fraud.
“We’re going to have hidden surveillance cameras, we’re going to have people parked there watching you and they’re going to follow you to your car and get your license plate, so don’t try. Try no more,” Townsend said.
Lake Havasu Republican Sonny Borrelli has also made similar calls at a forum on electoral security.
“We have to be force multipliers,” Borrelli told the crowd in Tempe. “We need to have people camped on unmanned drop boxes and camp on them and keep an eye on them and pull out that data, license plates, photos and so on.”
“It’s not their job to be some kind of vigilante law enforcement,” Morales-Doyle said of the poll watch.
According to Morales-Doyle, local law enforcement may not be the best option for a voter to turn to if they end up feeling intimidated at the polls. He suggested going to local election officials, the Election Protection Hotline or federal law enforcement.
Voter intimidation is a federal crime, which is enforced by the FBI and the Department of Justice.
When asked to comment on the situation in Yavapai County, the FBI’s field office in Phoenix referred the Mirror to a link on what the FBI can and cannot do regarding election-related crimes.
“Enough with the election deniers and fearmongers, who only seek to undermine our democratic process,” U.S. Attorney for Arizona Gary Restaino said in a statement to the Mirror. “I’m proud to live in a state that works to break down barriers to voting and has a long belief in mail-in voting. Working in partnership with our state and local election officials, the Department of Justice will do its best to ensure that every eligible voter who chooses to vote can do so easily and efficiently, without interference or discrimination.
U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Yvette Cantu said the office could not “comment on specific cases or issues” when asked about oath keepers in Yavapai County. When asked if that meant there was an investigation into the oath keepers, the office did not respond.
While suffrage advocates like Morales-Doyle say there is cause for concern due to the country’s changing political landscape, increased threats against election officials and waning restrictions on partisan activities, most voters should not worry.
“I think the vast majority of polling places across the country and Arizona, voters are going to have a typical experience in 2022 and voters will have nothing to worry about,” Morales-Doyle said.
Dropbox’s monitoring efforts in Maricopa County have already been inconsistent.
“[Voters] should not let the kind of rhetoric driving this conversation keep them from participating in our democracy,” Morales-Doyle said.
For more information on early voting in Arizona, go here.