Federal Judge Protects Right To Observe Ballot Drop Boxes

A federal judge in Arizona ruled on Friday that a group of election watchers cannot be prohibited from viewing and filming absentee ballot drop boxes from the legally required distance in the lead-up to Election Day on November 8.

U.S. District Judge Michael Liburdi wrote in his ruling that Clean Elections USA, a citizen group organized to monitor the drop boxes in the state, should not be bound by a restraining order as requested by a pair of leftist organizations that support Democratic and progressive candidates.

While the judge said that the case presents serious questions under federal civil rights and voting rights laws, he found that the First Amendment rights of citizens to observe polling locations prevented any restraining order from being issued.

The liberal groups fighting against Clean Elections USA said in part that the group’s volunteers were scaring some voters away by standing near the drop boxes while legally carrying firearms. However, the evidence indicated that the volunteers were not in violation of any laws and were instructed to remain the required distance away from the boxes.

The fundamental rights to “engage in political speech, assemble peacefully, and associate with others,” all protected by the First Amendment, were found to override any claims of harm from being observed casting a ballot. The judge also found that Clean Elections USA had not engaged in any “true threats” to voting rights.

Clean Elections USA was reportedly organized in response to the alleged prevalence of “mules” who harvested ballots of questionable provenance and dropped them off in large quantities in drop boxes set up as “emergency” voting mechanisms during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this year, the election security organization True the Vote reported that its analysis indicated around 4.8 million votes were cast in the 2020 general election as part of an alleged illegal ballot harvesting scheme.

In Maricopa County this year, the sheriff has posted deputies around the two ballot drop boxes in use to enhance security. Republican Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has asked the public to report any cases of voter intimidation or any illegal activities around drop boxes.

News reports indicate there have only been 10 cases of intimidation reported by Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs to the Department of Justice this year. Hobbs, a Democrat, is running for governor against Republican Kari Lake.

For now, Judge Liburdi, who was appointed to the federal bench by President Donald Trump, has struck a proper balance between the right to vote and the fundamental right to ensure fair and honest government through actions protected by the First Amendment.