With just over two weeks left until the midterm elections, the threat of violence and voter intimidation in Arizona has ramped up significantly.
On Friday night, two armed and masked men wearing tactical gear surveilled a drop box outside the Maricopa County Juvenile Court building in Mesa.
Maricopa County Election Department said that the police had been called, and that the armed individuals departed the scene.
However, in a statement to VICE News, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office said that after deputies responded, they “were able to determine that the individuals were not breaking any laws and were more than 75 feet away from the ballot box, as required by law.”
On Saturday night, at least one of the men returned to monitor the drop box again.
This time local sheriffs were captured on camera trying to intervene in a standoff between the armed individuals monitoring the drop boxes and those who came to observe the watchers.
The sheriff’s office did not respond to a request for comment about Saturday night’s incidents.
Maricopa County became ground zero for the efforts to overturn the 2020 election when the Senate sanctioned a bogus recount that eventually determined that President Joe Biden won by more votes than was originally thought. Now, as the midterms loom, Arizona is set to be one of the main flashpoints of the efforts to undermine democracy promoted and popularized by former President Donald Trump over the last two years.
In a joint statement posted online on Saturday, Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates and Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer condemned the drop box watchers.
“We are deeply concerned about the safety of individuals who are exercising their constitutional right to vote and who are lawfully taking their early ballot to a drop box," Gates and Richer stated.
This drop box is the same location where last week several voters reported being intimidated to the Arizona secretary of state, who referred the reports to the Department of Justice and the Arizona attorney general.
Multiple grassroots groups have emerged in recent months dedicated to monitoring drop box locations across the country. They have been inspired by the debunked conclusions of Dinesh D’Souza’s 2000 Mules election conspiracy film, as well as rhetoric from the GOP and Trump himself. One of the groups operating in Arizona is Clean Election USA, and their work has already been boosted by Trump via his Truth Social Account.
Meanwhile, officials in the local Democratic Party in Arizona reportedly received a letter from an anonymous group calling itself “Ben Sent Us,” threatening them with the release of their personal details.
“All video and picture of possible ballot, voting and dropbox fraud will be posted on the internet along with pictures of district attorneys, sheriffs and others that do not pursue investigations and charges on those committing election fraud….we will be locating your homes, your social media profiles and pictures and posting them online as well,” the letter’s author wrote, according to a copy obtained by a local activist group called the Indivisible Tucson Action Alliance.
The letter went on to state that “every judge refusing to sentence election fraud to the full extent of the law will be considered a traitor and dealt with accordingly, as will you.”
And yet, despite the rising tensions in Maricopa County, far-right GOP candidates are continuing to foment anger.
“We must watch all drop boxes because they do not have live cameras on them streaming to the public for people to ensure there is no fraud in the process,” Mark Finchem, the far-right GOP candidate running for secretary of state, tweeted on Sunday in response to criticism of the drop box monitoring.
In his tweet, Finchem linked to an article in the Gateway Pundit claiming that voters dropping off ballots were covering up their license plates because they were so-called “ballot mules.” The actual reason voters were doing this, according to local media reports, was because those monitoring the drop boxes had previously photographed the license plates of voters.
Finchem also failed to mention that the drop box watchers were also covering up their license plates to stop anyone identifying them.
Finchem is part of a QAnon-linked coalition of GOP candidates seeking to become the top election official in their state. All of these candidates, including Nevada secretary of state candidate Jim Marchant, Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, and Michigan secretary of state candidate Kristina Karamo, have claimed that they would not have certified the result of the 2020 presidential election and have hinted that they are likely to dispute future election results if they don’t go their way.