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Video offers rare glimpse of police enforcing Arizona’s election laws

PoliticsElectionsVideo offers rare glimpse of police enforcing Arizona's election laws


PHOENIX — As activists lined up a suburban ballot drop box last year, some wielding guns and wearing tactical gear, law enforcement officers found themselves playing the role of front-line election workers.

In conversations with these observers, according to body-camera footage obtained by The Washington Post, local sheriff’s representatives explained and enforced complex — and sometimes obscure — election laws, noting whether observers should wear face coverings, Guns and video cameras hinder people’s ability to vote. handed over to the representatives law abiding tips, Calmly defused tensions, leveraged humor to gather information, and measured supervisors’ distance from a drop box To ensure that they are within the ambit of the law.

View full: Body-camera footage shows law enforcement arriving at a parking lot to question masked individuals on October 21, 2022

The 45-minute footage provides a rare window into law enforcement’s new role in Arizona’s election, where self-styled civilian watch dog band Mistrustful of voting systems and the government took it upon themselves during the early voting period of the midterm elections to gather evidence of improprieties they believed might have occurred. The scene played out in Maricopa County, where most of the state’s voters live and a Epicenter of the election denial movement Which fueled efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.

During a shootout with three groups of observers last October, deputies Tried to minimize danger and disruption to voters but could not violate observers’ freedom of speech and rights to bear arms under Arizona law. The deputies employed tactics they learned at an election-focused training months ago, and Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzon (D) warned them that their interactions with supervisors would be closely watched and judged.

View full: Body-camera footage shows additional law enforcement arriving to question masked individuals on October 21, 2022

“While this may not be a fundamental task in which we ever expected to participate, it is absolutely an obligation if we expect our nation to remain stable,” he said. “I never expected this amount of resources to be devoted to that cause.”

Office spent $665,000 law enforcement activities nearby Penzone said the 2022 midterm elections, including for personnel overtime, temporary fencing surrounding the county’s vote-counting center to control access, and responding to reports of observers at the county’s two outdoor drop boxes. They hope that this type of work will increase With the presidential election next year.

“It was a dress rehearsal for 2024,” Penzon said.

Other law enforcement agencies in the states found themselves in similar situations. Ballot boxes suddenly come under scrutiny, mainly by activists and groups with right-wing leanings. Maricopa experienced the most extreme activities, and voting rights advocates say the monitoring created a hostile environment for voters, election workers, and law enforcement.

Watch full: Body-camera footage shows Arizona representatives discuss and enact election law Oct. 21, 22

Drop boxes are intended and made to serve as a secure and convenient device for depositing ballots. used here for years, But former President Donald Trump and his allies have spread baseless conspiracy theories Linking the boxes to voter fraud — and prompting observers to stake them out in search of evidence that hasn’t yet been found.

In the video footage, which The Post obtained through a public records request filed in October, Deputies talk about receiving reports of observers wearing military-style tactical gear and carrying weapons — which the Justice Department later said may violate Federal Voting Rights Act. But they left before the people’s representatives arrived. Collect identifying information about them.

View full: October 22, 2022 Body-camera footage shows deputies defuse tensions involving ballot drop box observers.

The deputies spoke at length with the more casually dressed observers left behind. Some shared their names, while others declined. Some were seated in camping chairs, as in line for a concert, or on the folded tailgate of a pickup truck. One claimed he saw someone “stuffing stuff in a ballot box” but was unwilling to provide deputies with video footage of the group, according to a police report. Another explained that she covered her car’s license plate in an effort to ward off liberal activists, who she speculated might try to expose her identity to online mobs. Several observers were asked to identify the names of groups they were affiliated with and declined to do so. In the footage, no one was asked about possible affiliations with political parties, and they did not volunteer that information.

They came armed with guns, face coverings, video cameras and an assortment of snacks. A woman munches on popcorn while looking at the drop box.

According to officials, none of the people featured in the video were charged with a crime. The Post contacted people it could identify for comment. One woman, who did not want her name published, said in a brief interview that she was distrustful of Dropbox, although she said she No suspicious activity observed.

While leaders of stakeout efforts often emphasize that they are not attempting to prevent voters from using ballot boxes, an October 21 comment suggested otherwise.

Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies question two masked men wearing tactical gear in a Mesa, Ariz., parking lot on Oct. 21, 2022. (Video: Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office)

A woman hiding her face in a folding chair was amazed at how few voters she had seen during her shift.

“No one’s been here, which is great,” he told the deputies. “Tonight, we haven’t seen anyone. Now, last night, we were here and people were driving around.”

Ballot transportation records from the county’s Department of Elections show that 76 ballots were received from drop boxes earlier that day. The following Monday, another 546 ballots, which had been submitted by voters during the weekend, were retrieved by election officials.

That same night, the deputy stated in a police report that he was asked by his office to investigate “suspicious persons” near the same drop box. One report stated that an officer observed two observers wearing face coverings and tactical gear who “appear to be armed with holstered sidearms”. They left before the MLA could gather any more information.

On October 21, 2022, Maricopa County Sheriff’s representatives share copies of the Arizona election law with persons viewing ballot drop boxes in Mesa, Ariz. (Video: Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office)

Nearby, three men dressed in casuals sat on lawn chairs with cameras mounted on tripods, according to the report. A deputy asked if they were affiliated with observers who were in the area wearing tactical gear.

“Dressed like that, it’s a little intimidating,” the deputy said.

He gave an observer a tip sheet about election laws that required him to be at least 75 feet away from the box. One of the observers, wearing a lion T-shirt, replied that the group was “determined to follow the letter of the law.”

The deputy tried to explain that the letter of the law is open to some interpretation.

“Here’s my big concern,” the deputy said, “I’m going to try to get clarification … It’s very vague, it says ‘interruption of voting.’ If we get a voter who says they feel hindered by you guys being here, technically, that’s within the law.

Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies told people in a Mesa, Ariz., parking lot that they were out of range of a 75-foot drop box on Oct. 21, 2022. (Video: Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office)

But a clear part of the law It is that observers are not allowed within 75 feet of the drop box, so the deputy brought out a measuring wheel and calculated the space between the box and the observers. It was over 75 feet.

The supervisor said, “It is better to be a little too far than a little too close.” lion in t-shirt, who told the deputy that he was affiliated with an effort called the “Drop Box Initiative”. There was an effort underway by the same name, organized at the time by a group known as Clean Election USA, that echoed the unsubstantiated claims of fraud in the 2020 election. a separate The Arizona group, which has been associated with far-right ideology, also engaged in drop box monitoring at the time.

Arizona attorney Alexander Kolodin, who represents the group formerly known as Clean Election USA, said the purpose of the surveillance was to express disapproval of drop boxes, highlight supporters’ belief that they were unsafe and that To try to make sure that they were as safe as possible. ,

He said several groups worked on monitoring the boxes and did not comment on that particular supervisor. Efforts to reach Melody Jennings, the group’s founder, were unsuccessful.

The deputy told supervisors they weren’t doing anything illegal, and his colleague tried to make him understand the type of activity that might be illegal.

“We get a call that says there’s someone near our parking lot with a ski mask,” he said. “… I was in the military for 20 years, it makes the hairs on the back of my head raise.”

The supervisors’ fraud-hunting mission tied up the time of at least two deputies, pulling one away from work and preventing the other from getting home on time. A deputy asked supervisors how many more days they wanted to show up.

“It’s a burden on us, to pull our men” from other operations, a deputy told him.

Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies reduce moments after a scuffle occurred between drop box supervisors and another man on Oct. 22, 2022. (Video: Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office)

The following night, a scuffle broke out between an observer and a man dressed in what resembled a nun’s habit, as several delegates quickly reacted. According to the video and accompanying written police report, he allegedly tried to remove a flag that shielded the license plate identification of other observers.

A deputy looked up from his vehicle, then got out yelling, “Hey, wait!” Bystanders, some wearing body cams of their own, pleaded with security.

An observer said, “She’s touching us.” “She’s touching my vehicle.”

“He took a picture of my license plate,” another told him. “He touched my vehicle.”

Another observer, his face covered, Declared: “This is trespassing.” Referring to some left-wing activists, he said without any evidence: “That person is Antifa.”

The deputy told the group that the actions he had seen and heard were not illegal. He calmly urged them to remain calm and urged them not to take the situation to a level that could lead to violation of law.

“You have to understand that this is a significant increase,” he said, trying to calm them down.

“No, it’s not,” said an observer who said he was from North Carolina. “It’s protecting our property.” He added, “He incited violence and you know it.”

The officer retorted, “Our understandings of what incites violence are very different.”

Then, the North Carolina man brandished his weapon while addressing the man dressed as a nun.

“Constitutional carry state, lady,” he shouted. The officer interrupted, “Wait. … Some people still don’t like guns, okay.”

during approximately 20 minutes of footage, one observer said they were there that night because they had heard about “some ballot initiative bull—“. ‘ We said, ‘Let’s sit out there.’

Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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