Arizona’s election officials have once again been targeted with violent threats ahead of next month’s midterms, and the secretary of state has confirmed that at least one direct threat against her and her staff has been sent to the FBI.
The threat was made in an email sent to Secretary of State Katie Hobbs that also addressed other election officials, including Kori Lorick, who is Hobbs’ director of election services.
“Attention ALL Corrupt and Treasonous Government Officials…If you Cunt Lickers continue to fuck with the integrity of the AZ Elections…I guarantee you, We the People will remove you from office…Additionally, if you own a home…We will find you through the Tax Assessors Website…Remember the French revolution of 1799??” the email’s author wrote, according to a copy of the message seen by VICE News.
Last week the FBI identified Arizona as one of the top states for threats to election officials and poll workers. Earlier this month, an Iowa man was arrested for threatening to kill Maricopa County Supervisor Clint Hickman and an official at the Arizona Attorney General's Office.
This latest uptick in threats related to the upcoming midterms comes as Hobbs confirmed that she has sent an additional five incidents of alleged voter intimidation to the Department of Justice, related to groups of poll watchers staking out drop box locations in the state. Last week Hobbs, who is facing off against GOP pick Kari Lake in the governor’s race next month, referred one incident of voter intimidation to the DOJ.
“Voter intimidation is illegal, and no voter should feel threatened or intimidated when trying to vote,” Hobbs said in a statement Monday.
“Anyone attempting to interfere with that right should be reported. Voter harassment may include gathering around ballot drop boxes questioning voters, brandishing weapons, taking pictures of people voting and following or chasing voters who are attempting to drop off their ballots, and it can all be considered voter intimidation. It is unacceptable.”
One of the latest reports of alleged intimidation received by the secretary of state came from a couple in their seventies.
“As we were getting up to our car, two individuals took pictures of our license plate and our car. I got out and asked what they were doing. They claimed they were taking pictures for ‘election security’ and I took pictures of them to report them to the DOJ for voter intimidation and harassment. As we were pulling out, they continued to film my wife, myself, and our car,” the complainant wrote, according to a copy of the complaint viewed by VICE News.
Since last week, poll watchers linked to a group called Clean Elections USA, which is run by QAnon-linked election conspiracist Melody Jennings, have been staking out the two drop box locations in Maricopa County, sharing blurry images of people voting and claiming it as evidence of voter fraud.
On Friday, two armed and masked men appeared at one of the drop box locations in Mesa. The sheriff’s office confirmed the men were not breaking the law, and one of the men returned on Saturday night.
This week Maricopa Sheriff Paul Penzone said that even though these groups were not breaking the law, it doesn’t make what they were doing acceptable.
“The more folks that there are creating problems, the more deputies you’re going to see on the streets focused on this,” Penzone said at a news conference. “We’ll come and babysit polling sites because people want to misbehave, if that’s what we have to do to protect democracy.”
Penzone’s comments echoed those by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who said Monday that his department “will not permit voters to be intimidated.”
As well as law enforcement efforts to stop the threats, there are multiple legal actions under way to stop these groups. Three separate legal actions have been filed against Clean Elections USA seeking to prevent it from conducting its drop box “monitoring.”
On Monday, the Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans, an organization representing nearly 50,000 retirees, and Voto Latino, a nonprofit group dedicated to expanding political engagement among Latino voters, filed a 64-page complaint alleging that Jennings’ “vigilante groups have already turned away voters.”
The lawsuit asks the court to block the group’s volunteers from gathering within sight of drop boxes or taking photos or recording videos of voters or prospective voters or people assisting them.
Another lawsuit filed Tuesday by the League of Women Voters of Arizona accuses the groups of violating the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voter intimidation, and the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which outlaws conspiring 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.”
Finally, the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission, a government group that runs voter information campaigns, has sent Clean Elections USA a cease and desist letter giving Jennings’ group until Thursday to stop using its name, which the ACCEC says causes confusion.
And it appears the threatened legal action has had an impact: Local reporters in Phoenix on Tuesday night reported no poll watchers at one of the locations that had been heavily monitored until now.
Jennings did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment on the lawsuits.
The threats in Arizona have not been limited to election officials or voters. A letter threatening to publish the personal details of judges and sheriffs was sent to a handful of county Democratic parties, the Arizona Democratic Party confirmed to VICE News.
“We will be locating your homes, your social media profiles and pictures, and posting them online as well,” the note threatened. The letter was written by a group calling itself “Ben Sent US,” which is a reference to Benjamin Franklin, whose picture appears on the group’s website.
And for the head of the Democratic Party in Arizona, all of these threats are the result of disinformation being spread by Republican candidates in the upcoming election.
“The recently reported voter intimidation in Arizona is a direct result of the blatant lies Republicans like Blake Masters, Kari Lake, Mark Finchem and Abe Hamadeh are spewing about our elections,” Arizona Democratic Party Chairwoman Raquel Terán told VICE News.
“Voting in Arizona is easy and secure, and election officials are hard at work making sure every vote is counted. Now more than ever I’m grateful for their public service to ensure the voice of every voter is heard.”
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