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Federal judge limits activities of Arizona poll-watching group

Nikara Paniagua drops her absentee ballot in a drop box on Election Day at Shorty Howell Park in Lawrenceville, Ga., on November 3, 2020. In Arizona, a judge has limited the activities of the group watching such drop box polling places. File Photo by Tami Chappell/UPI
Nikara Paniagua drops her absentee ballot in a drop box on Election Day at Shorty Howell Park in Lawrenceville, Ga., on November 3, 2020. In Arizona, a judge has limited the activities of the group watching such drop box polling places. File Photo by Tami Chappell/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 2 (UPI) -- Arizona federal Judge Michael Liburdi signed an emergency order limiting the activities of a conservative poll-watching group that opponents said was intimidating voters.

The Tuesday order prevents members of the group Clean Elections USA from "openly" carrying weapons or "visibly" wearing body armor within 250 feet of Arizona drop boxes. It also bars them from taking photos, recording, following or shouting at voters within 75 feet of election drop boxes.

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Clean Elections USA and those working for it had been surveilling drop boxes in the Phoenix area, claiming they were well within their First Amendment rights.

Liburdi's move against Clean Elections appeared to cut against a decision he made last week in which he declined to stop such activities.

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Liburdi, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, said testimony against Clean Elections on Tuesday went well beyond what he heard in the earlier hearing. Also, the lawsuit filed by Protect Democracy for the League of Women Voters sought a slimmed-down injunction against Clean Elections.

Clean Elections USA attorney Alexander Kolodin said in court that he would most likely appeal the latest ruling. He said Clean Elections USA had voluntarily agreed to the restrictions on weapons and verbally confronting or following voters.

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Kolodin continued to argue, though, that restricting the group from photographing, online posting and discussing Arizona voting laws infringed on its free speech.

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Liburdi ordered the group to not disseminate "false statements" about Arizona's statutes regarding early voting in interviews or on social media. Clean Election USA and its founder Melody Jennings have incorrectly explained Arizona laws regarding drop-box voting in the past.

"It is imperative we balance the defendants' right to engage in First Amendment-protected activity with the plaintiffs' right to act without intimidation or harassment," Liburdi said at the hearing.

"This does not prohibit Miss Jennings from correctly stating what the law is. I just have a problem with her stating it incorrectly in a way that is intimidating or coercive to voting behavior."

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