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As Arizona tactics show, voter intimidation isn’t a ‘both sides’ issue

A GOP leader said there are "stories" of voter intimidation "on both sides of the aisle." In reality, there's no parallel to what we've seen in Arizona.


In theory, Arizona voters should be able to take advantage of ballot drop boxes for their convenience. In practice, it’s not quite working out that way, at least not statewide.

As we’ve discussed, far-right conspiracy theorists, fueled by weird lies, have begun monitoring the drop boxes, accusing random voters of suspected crimes for no reason, and photographing people and license plates. In one recent incident, police were called when two armed individuals were seen dressed in tactical gear outside a Mesa ballot drop box — not in response to actual wrongdoing, but because vigilantes thought it’d be a good idea to intimidate law-abiding Americans engaged in the most basic of civic duties.

Asked about such tactics on Sunday, Rep. Tom Emmer, the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told CBS News’ Margaret Brennan, “Nobody should be intimidated when they’re exercising their most precious right to vote.” Asked specifically about incidents in Arizona, the Minnesota congressman added: “Again, no one should feel intimidated when they’re exercising their right to vote.”

Pressed further on whether the tactics being used in Arizona constitute voter intimidation, Emmer, clinging to the GOP’s go-to rhetorical life preserver, insisted, “You’ve got stories on both sides of the aisle.”

If that were true, it might be a compelling response. If there were “stories” about far-left operatives, motivated by ridiculous conspiracy theories, harassing voters and photographing license plates for no reason, Emmer might very well have a legitimate point.

But since those “stories” don’t appear to exist, the Republican leader’s effort to turn this mess into the latest “both sides” controversy was ridiculous.

As for the legal effort to address the far-right tactics in Arizona, The New York Times reported:

The Justice Department has weighed in on the debate over election activists who have been stationing themselves — at times with guns — near ballot boxes in Arizona, saying that their activity may not be constitutionally protected if it has the potential to intimidate voters.

The League of Women Voters of Arizona brought the case last week, targeting two conservative organizations that have taken the lead in rounding up activists to “monitor” ballot drop boxes.

On Friday, the League of Women Voters of Arizona asked a federal district court for an injunction against those groups. U.S. District Court Judge Michael Liburdi — a Federalist Society member appointed by Donald Trump and confirmed by Senate Republicans — refused to issue an injunction, ruling that the far-right groups’ tactics were protected by the First Amendment.

The Justice Department formally argued yesterday that Liburdi had this backward.

“The First Amendment does not protect individuals’ right to assemble to engage in voter intimidation or coercion,” Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, wrote in a brief filed on Monday in U.S. District Court in Phoenix. “Nor does it transform an unlawful activity for one individual — voter intimidation — into a permissible activity simply because multiple individuals have assembled to engage in it.”

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is weighing an emergency appeal to Liburdi’s ruling. Watch this space.

Follow our 2022 midterm elections live blog at beginning Nov. 7 for the latest results, news and expert analysis in real time.