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Judge Rules Armed Conspiracy Theorists Patrolling Ballot Drop Boxes Is Maybe Not a Great Idea

An older white man leans out of his truck window to drop a ballot in a Maricopa County official voter drop box.

A federal judge in Arizona has ruled that it’s probably not good or legal to have groups of sometimes-armed conspiracy theorists patrolling ballot drop boxes, taking pictures of voters and their cars, and just being general self-appointed forces of intimidation.

The New York Times writes: “The group, Clean Elections USA, has the stated goal of preventing voter fraud by staking out ballot boxes to ensure that people don’t behave as ‘mules’ by illegally casting multiple ballots. In recent weeks, self-described ‘mule watchers’ — some armed — have gathered around outdoor ballot boxes in Maricopa County to take pictures of voters and, in some cases, post those images online.”

The idea that this sort of monitoring is necessary seems to have developed on Truth Social and other corners of the pro-Trump internet. What essentially started as a meme ahead of the Arizona primary was written up by right-wing media outlets and “retruthed” by Donald Trump, and suddenly, according to NBC News’ Ben Collins, these groups were popping up not just across Arizona, but nationwide.

Clean Elections USA was sued by Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans and Voto Latino, but the judge in the case, Michael T. Liburdi, said he didn’t hear sufficient evidence to support the claims that voters had endued real harm. But a parallel case from the League of Women Voters convinced him to issue a temporary restraining order prohibiting the group from taking photos or videos of voters, disseminating their information online, and from “making false statements” about elections processes.

The Times describes the particularly compelling testimony that seems to have swayed Liburdi, which came from a couple who recently encountered the group while trying to use a drop box:

According to the man, who testified without revealing his name publicly for fear of harassment, eight to 10 people filmed the couple and told them they were “hunting mules.” Images of him and his car were posted online and Ms. Jennings subsequently appeared on the podcast of Stephen K. Bannon, the former Trump adviser, saying they had caught a mule and “blasted it out viral.”

That does not sound like cool and legal behavior! With just five days to go before the election, hopefully, this will allow room for voters to cast their early ballots safely.

(image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.