Arizona Secretary Of State Sends Voter Intimidation Report To DOJ

A voter places a ballot in a drop box outside the Maricopa County Elections Department on Aug. 2 in Phoenix. (Photo: Justin Sullivan via Getty Images)
A voter places a ballot in a drop box outside the Maricopa County Elections Department on Aug. 2 in Phoenix. (Photo: Justin Sullivan via Getty Images)

A voter places a ballot in a drop box outside the Maricopa County Elections Department on Aug. 2 in Phoenix. (Photo: Justin Sullivan via Getty Images)

The office of the Arizona secretary of state has referred a report of voter intimidation to the state’s attorney general’s office and the U.S. Department of Justice.

A voter claimed to have been “approached and followed by a group of individuals” while trying to drop off a ballot at an early-voting drop box Monday, according to the office. Local outlet ABC15 first reported the complaint Wednesday, and a Justice Department spokesperson confirmed to HuffPost that the DOJ had received the referral.

The report came from Maricopa County, Arizona ― home to Phoenix and the majority of the state’s residents ― and, specifically, a drop box outside the Juvenile Justice Center in the city of Mesa.

The report follows months of growing conspiracy theories fostered by the movie “2000 Mules,” which alleges, without evidence, that a network of thousands of “mules” ― slang for people thought to be “harvesting” or “trafficking” ballots illegally ― swung the 2020 election by working with unidentified left-wing groups to smuggle fraudulent votes for Joe Biden into the official count via drop boxes. The film has been endorsed by major Republican politicians and has inspired vigilante drop-box “stakeouts” across the country.

It wasn’t immediately clear who was behind the alleged intimidation in Mesa. But a right-wing group, Clean Elections USA, has had teams of people actively monitoring drop boxes in Arizona for several days.

“We are actually making a difference,” the group’s founder, Melody Jennings, told former top Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon on Monday. “We are actually seeing mules be intimidated from doing their thievery. We’re not intimidating voters. But the mules do not want to be caught on film, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re catching them on telescopic film. We can zoom right in. We can get your face. So we’ve got you.”

During a separate appearance on Bannon’s show this week, Jennings claimed that her group has “thousands” of volunteers, and that they are “geotracking” people they suspect of breaking the law.

Jennings told HuffPost that “the individual everyone is referring to [in Maricopa County] is not in any way associated with Clean Elections USA and never has been. It was an individual, not a group.”

“Anyone who does not follow the law at a drop box site is instantly disassociated with Clean Elections USA,” she wrote Thursday in a statement on Truth Social. “This individual who the press are zeroing in on was never a part of CEUSA. Every person who does volunteer with CEUSA is responsible for their own actions.”

For days, Jennings has posted photos of apparent drop-box surveillance efforts, updating her online followers on her group’s work. 

On Sunday, she posted a picture of a sedan near a drop box that appeared to have an obscured license plate.

On Monday, Jennings posted a grainy photo of what appeared to be someone approaching a drop box. 

“This guy,” Jennings wrote. “Drove in backwards to avoid plate detection. Got out showing his back. Pulled ballots out of his shirt. I need people there tonight to help my people. Lots of you! 75 ft away from box, post up opposite so we see both sides. Someone get tags. No talking to them. Do NOT GO INSIDE 75 ft! They are trying to get us to engage them. Do not do it!” She included an address below her post that matches that of the drop box in Mesa. 

Seth Keshel, a popular influencer among those who believe Trump’s lies about a stolen 2020 election, responded“After 2020, this should be a capital offense.” 

In another post Monday, Jennings called on supporters to observe the drop boxes in Mesa and Phoenix “right now.” 

“There are mules getting there and doing their thing even with my people there,” she wrote.

Trump reshared Jennings’ Truth Social posts to his 4.3 million followers on the platform.

In addition to Clean Elections USA, the Arizona Mirror reported Friday that an Arizona chapter of the anti-government militia group the Oath Keepers was working with a group called the Lions of Liberty on “Operation Drop Box.” Several Oath Keepers, including founder Stewart Rhodes, are facing seditious conspiracy charges for their alleged actions during the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack in Washington, D.C.

In Arizona, family members, household members and caregivers are legally allowed to return a voter’s absentee ballot.

But Arizona was also one of a handful of states featured in “2000 Mules.” The film is devoid of any legitimate evidence ― the holes in its supposed logic are too numerous to count ― and Arizona’s Republican attorney general, Mark Brnovich, recently asked the FBI and IRS to investigate True the Vote, the voter fraud hysterics organization at the center of the film, claiming it had failed to deliver promised evidence supporting the movie’s claims.

“Despite repeated requests, TTV never did provide the information it purported to have in its possession,” the letter from Brnovich’s office reads. The Georgia secretary of state’s office similarly told HuffPost that True the Vote had not responded to a subpoena in that state.

Nonetheless, bitter after Biden’s 2020 win in Arizona, many Republicans there have enthusiastically promoted “2000 Mules.”

The state’s Republican nominee for governor, Kari Lake, has claimed the movie shows how the elections were “corrupt” and “rotten.”

“We want people to be arrested, prosecuted and thrown in jail,” Lake said. 

And after a May legislative hearing with Catherine Engelbrecht — a co-executive producer of “2000 Mules” and True the Vote’s founder — state Sen. Kelly Townsend (R) said she had been “pleased to hear about all you vigilantes out there that want to camp out at these drop boxes.” 

“We’re going to be out there, we’re going to have hidden trail cameras, we’re going to have people parked out there watching you, and they’re going to follow you to your car and get your license plate,” Townsend said.

Maricopa County officials have condemned the drop-box vigilantism. 

“We have folks that are approaching our elections workers as they go into the site; they’re taking pictures of them,” Bill Gates (R), the chair of the county’s board of supervisors, said at a meeting Wednesday. “They’re harassing people. They’re not helping further the interests of democracy.”

“Any attempt to deter, intimidate a lawful voter is unlawful, should be immediately reported, please to us, but also law enforcement,” Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer (R) said at a press conference last week, according to ABC15. Richer also noted that there had been reports of people in the vicinity of the same Mesa drop box at the heart of Monday’s report.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.