The Justice Department on Monday waded into a closely watched election lawsuit in Arizona where several civic groups have accused right-wing activists of intimidating voters at ballot drop boxes.
The allegations “raise serious concerns of voter intimidation,” the Justice Department wrote, adding that “vigilante ballot security efforts” and “private campaigns to video record voters” likely violate the federal Voting Rights Act.
“Citizen-led election monitoring activities are more likely to put voters in reasonable fear of harassment, intimidation, coercion, or interference with their voting rights,” DOJ added.
The department did not take a formal position on what the judge should do.
The lawsuit pits the League of Women Voters against several right-wing groups that have promoted false claims about voter fraud and the 2020 election. The group accused the groups of sending vigilante poll watchers, including some with guns and wearing tactical gear, to videotape and intimidate voters at drop boxes.
In a related case brought by separate groups, a federal judge declined to issue a court order prohibiting the right-wing activists from gathering near drop boxes or photographing voters near drop boxes. District Judge Michael Liburdi, who is overseeing both cases, said there were legitimate concerns about the conduct but there wasn’t enough evidence at this stage to restrict anyone’s First Amendment rights.
The League of Women Voters is still pressing for a court order to specifically ban, among other things, armed vigilantes from congregating near the drop boxes. A hearing is slated for Tuesday.
Representatives from the right-wing groups involved in the case – Yavapai County Preparedness Team, Clean Elections USA and Lions of Liberty – did not comment for CNN’s previous coverage of the lawsuit. An attorney for Clean Elections pushed back against the allegations brought in the earlier case at a hearing last week, and their website says their goal is to ensure that “every legal vote must be counted” and to make sure no “illegal votes are added to the mix.”
The Justice Department filing dovetailed with some of the arguments put forward by the League of Women Voters, specifically claiming there aren’t constitutional protections for election vigilantism.
“Much like a citizen’s refusal to pay taxes does not become protected speech because she is attempting to express disapproval of the IRS, photographing a voter’s license plate does not become protected speech whenever the photographer seeks to express disapproval of drop-box voting,” the Justice Department said.
The Justice Department further bolstered the civic groups’ arguments by saying in its filing Monday that the First Amendment’s right to assembly doesn’t allow people to assemble for the purpose of coercing voters.
Last week, Attorney General Merrick Garland spoke out, saying the Justice Department “will not permit voters to be intimidated” during the midterm elections.