The Department of Justice is already investigating possible incidents of voter intimidation at drop boxes after voters reported that people monitoring voting locations harassed them and accused them of helping to steal the election.
The investigation was sparked by a report from an Arizona voter who felt they’d been intimidated while posting their ballot at a drop box in Maricopa County. They later flagged the incident to the Arizona secretary of state.
“There's a group of people hanging out near the ballot dropbox filming and photographing my wife and I as we approached the dropbox and accusing us of being a mule,” the voter reported in a copy of the complaint obtained by local TV station ABC15. “They took photographs of our license plate and of us and then followed us out the parking lot in one of their cars continuing to film.”
ABC15 also obtained CCTV footage of the voter at the drop box.
“The Secretary of State has referred to the DOJ and AG a report from a voter that the voter was approached and followed by a group of individuals when the voter was trying to drop off their ballot at an early voting drop box on Monday,” Sophia Solis, a spokesperson for Secretary Katie Hobbs’ office told VICE News.
The Department of Justice and the office of the attorney general confirmed to VICE News that they had received the referral from Hobbs’ office.
“We have received the referral and are currently reviewing it,” Brittni Thomason, spokesperson for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, said. “Everyone should feel safe exercising their voting rights. If someone feels threatened, please contact local law enforcement right away.”
A spokesperson for the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office said it had received more than one report of voter intimidation from the secretary of state’s office.
“The County supports the referral to the Department of Justice on this potential case of voter intimidation,” Justin Heywood, special assistant to the recorder, told VICE News. “We have received four reports forwarded by the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office. We encourage any voter who feels threatened, harassed, or intimidated to report it. It is unacceptable and unlawful to impede any voter from participating in the election.”
Heywood said the county had “taken active steps to ensure the safety and security of staff and voters, but many of these self-styled ‘drop box watchers’ have the right to be on public sidewalks and parking lots.”
Heywood also said the recorder’s office works closely with the FBI and the Maricopa County sheriff's office to address any issues that arise related to voter intimidation.
The baseless allegation that the 2020 election was stolen due to people stuffing fraudulent ballots into drop boxes has exploded, thanks in large part to the election conspiracy film 2000 Mules. Despite the film and the data it’s based on being widely debunked, it has been boosted by ex-President Trump and many GOP lawmakers as further evidence that the election was stolen.
As a result, countless grassroots groups across the country have cropped up with the aim of monitoring these drop box locations and filming the people using them. One of those groups is Clean Elections USA, which has been posting images of voters at Arizona’s drop box locations in recent days.
Earlier this week, Trump shared the spurious allegations on his Truth Social account. In Arizona, Trump-backed Secretary of State candidate and QAnon booster Mark Finchem has also been encouraging people to monitor drop boxes.
The founder of Clean Elections USA, Melody Jennings, did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment, but on her Truth Social account she denied that volunteers associated with her group were responsible for the intimidation earlier this week.
“On Monday night, a man drove up to a drop box in Maricopa County. He asked people sitting outside the 75 ft perimeter where the drop box was. Another individual not associated with Clean Elections USA who was there on his own responded to this individual. At no time did anyone from Clean Clean Elections USA interact with this person who drove up to the box,” Jennings wrote on Truth Social on Thursday, adding that any volunteer with her organization found to be breaking the rules would be immediately removed.
However, earlier in the week, Jennings had posted a photo on Truth Social sent by one of her volunteers that shows the same car seen in the CCTV footage obtained by ABC15, alongside a claim that the voter “drove in backwards” to avoid detection and claimed—without evidence—that he pulled ballots from out of his shirt.
Arizona isn’t the only site of voter intimidation tactics ahead of the midterms. Officials in North Carolina, Colorado, and Nevada have already reported incidents of voter intimidation this election cycle. Meanwhile, in Florida, a police force set up by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to tackle the baseless claims of widespread electoral fraud recently arrested 20 people who believed they had voted legally following a 2018 law introduced to allow former felons to vote.