A federal judge issued a restraining order on Tuesday against an election watchdog group over ballot drop box monitoring in Arizona, a key battleground state in the 2022 midterm elections.
U.S. District Court Judge and Trump appointee Michael Liburdi barred Clean Elections USA from coming near drop boxes in the state after the Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans asked for a restraining order following reports of armed people monitoring 24-hour ballot drop boxes in Maricopa County and rural Yavapai County.
The order is a reversal of Liburdi’s prior decision last Friday, when he said the court could not file a restraining order “without violating the First Amendment.” But the judge appears to have changed his mind after Biden’s Department of Justice intervened in the lawsuit on Monday. Attorneys for the DOJ argued that armed individuals near drop boxes and watchdogs filming ballot drop-offs amounted to voter intimidation. These “vigilante ballot security measures” likely violate the Voting Rights Act, they reportedly argued.
“While the First Amendment protects expressive conduct and peaceable assembly generally, it affords no protection for threats of harm directed at voters,” the attorneys wrote.
Melody Jennings, head of Clean Elections USA, however, has argued that the two armed individuals who were seen watching a drop box in Mesa, Arizona, did not pose a threat to voters and were “minding their own business.”
The new restraining order prohibits associates of Clean Elections USA from coming within 75 feet of a ballot drop box, open-carrying or wearing body armor within 250 feet of the drop boxes despite Arizona being an open-carry state, speaking to anyone returning ballots to a drop box, or taking or distributing any images or personal information of people delivering ballots to drop boxes.
In a massive twist after Liburdi’s purported concern for the First Amendment last week, the judge’s Tuesday order compels certain speech from the election watchdog on both its website and Jennings’ social media, along with a copy of a state election statute and the restraining order. Liburdi ruled:
Defendants shall, within 24 hours of the date of this order, post the following in a conspicuous place on Clean Elections USA’s website and on the Truth Social page, @TrumperMel, and leave it posted through the close of voting on Election Day 2022: ‘It is not always illegal to deposit multiple ballots in a ballot drop box. It is legal to deposit the ballot of a family member, household member, or person for whom you are the caregiver. Here are the rules for ballot drop boxes by which I ask you to abide.’
Cleta Mitchell, a senior legal fellow at the Conservative Partnership Institute, told The Federalist that while the order increases burdensome requirements on drop-box monitors, “bottom line is the group can still monitor the drop boxes.”
“They can still monitor but they have been severely restricted beyond the provisions of state law,” Mitchell added. “But we just have to keep monitoring and observing: and documenting and reporting.”
The restraining order will be in effect for two weeks.