‘Victory for the Voters’: Arizona Ballot ‘Watchers’ Ordered to Stay Away from Drop Boxes

The right-wing, conspiracist-minded group that bragged about staking out election drop boxes in Arizona was ordered by a federal judge to stay at least 75 feet away from them, and forbidden from speaking to voters unless spoken to first.

Judge Michael T. Liburdi’s restraining order on November 1 2022 also forbids members of “Clean Elections USA” from carrying firearms within 250 feet of a drop box, and to visibly and publicly debunk at least one piece of disinformation they have been enthusiastically propagating.

Fact Check

Claim: The Arizona group ‘Clean Elections USA’ was ordered to stay away from election drop boxes

Description: A right-wing group known as ‘Clean Elections USA’, which had been reportedly staking out election drop boxes in Arizona, was ordered by a federal judge to maintain a distance of at least 75 feet from these boxes. The judge in question was Michael T. Liburdi and the order was issued on November 1, 2022. The order also barred the group from speaking to voters unless first spoken to, from carrying firearms within 250 feet of a drop box, and required them to debunk at least one piece of disinformation they had been propagating.

Rating: True

Rating Explanation: The information is reported in various reputable sources and court documents, indicating that the claim is indeed true.

The order from Liburdi, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump in 2019, grants a request from the League of Women Voters and will be in effect through November 15 2022 — a full week after the 2022 midterm elections. Liburdi granted the League’s order after denying a similar request from two other groups four days earlier.

The Arizona Republic reported that it is unclear who will enforce the order.

“We’re in the business of elections, not in the business of moving people,” said Stephen Richer, an official for Maricopa County, where the drop boxes are located.

“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’s Arizona chapter.

According to the New York Times, Sheoran testified that members of her group “feared they could be followed or even physically assaulted” by the right-wing group if they tried to use the drop boxes, which will be the only way residents can cast their vote prior to election day, since the deadline for mailing votes in was the same day Liburdi issued his restraining order.

The Times also reported that another voter, a Mesa resident, testified that both he and his wife felt “menaced” by the group

Images of him and his car were posted online and Ms. Jennings subsequently appeared on the podcast of Stephen K. Bannon, the former Trump adviser, saying they had caught a mule and “blasted it out viral.”

In response, the restraining order also forbids “Clean Elections USA” as well as “other persons in active concert or participation with them” from posting images, recording, and any personal information for voters who use drop boxes on top of being barred from photographing them within the 75-foot boundary:

Around a dozen separate complaints had been filed against “Clean Elections USA” by the time the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a brief on October 31 2022 in support of the League’s lawsuit. But an attorney for the former group and founder Melody Jennings, Alexander Kolodin, claimed in court that media outlets covering the ballot stakeouts were “intimidating” voters.

Jennings, who had also previously bragged that her group was tracking down “mules” (a smear against voters using drop boxes taken from a discredited “documentary” directed by right-wing disinformation purveyor Dinesh D’Souza) also reportedly failed to back up claims that her group was misunderstood. The Times reported:

In a Monday interview on “War Room,” Mr. Bannon’s show, she said she was “tired that nobody comes and asks what it’s about.” Ms. Jennings has not responded to multiple requests for comment from The New York Times.

Liburdi’s order will also require Jennings to publicly disavow at least some of the disinformation on both her group’s website and the right-wing platform Truth Social, whose users called for “tailgate parties” at similar drop boxes around the United States.

Jennings will be forced to post, “It is not always illegal to deposit multiple ballots in a ballot drop box” and “It is legal to deposit the ballot of a family member, household member, or person for whom you are the caregiver” within 24 hours of Liburdi’s order, followed by a copy of Arizona laws on the matter and a link to his restraining order.

However, the group’s website has apparently been deleted as of late November 2022, as first reported by Newsy. Jennings’ group also lost a separate lawsuit in Arizona barring it from using the “Clean Elections USA” name in Arizona; Judge Scott Blaney found that the name was creating confusion among voters mistaking it for a legitimate organization, the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.

Update 11/23/2022, 12:07 p.m. PST: Updated to reflect a court ruling banning “Clean Elections USA” from using that name in Arizona, and the apparent deletion of the group’s website. — ag