U.S. District Court Judge Michael Liburdi refused to issue a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction against Clean Elections USA, the right-wing organization that has organized an effort to monitor ballot drop boxes across Arizona, inspired by the conspiracy theory film 2000 mules. The group is behind various complaints of voter intimidation in Arizona this past week.
The lawsuit was filed on Monday night by two voting rights groups: Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans (AARA), a local organization for retirees, and Voto Latino, a national group representing Latino voters.
The groups immediately appealed their case Friday to the 9th Circuit.
They alleged that Clean Elections USA “gathered at ballot drop boxes in Maricopa County with the express purpose of deterring voters,” according to their complaint.
They sought a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction that would prevent Clean Elections USA from “gathering within sight of dropboxes,” taking photos of dropboxes, or training others to do so.
The plaintiffs’ attorney Daniel Arellano argued that Clean Elections USA’s efforts violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871. “Under any circumstance, Defendants’ actions carry with them exacerbated threats,” he wrote in the complaint. “But, in the current charged political climate, Defendants’ actions carry with them exacerbated threats.”
But Liburdi did not find sufficient evidence that the group’s actions constituted a “true threat.”
“On this record, Defendants have not made any statements threatening to commit acts of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals,” he wrote. “There is no evidence that Defendants have publicly posted any voter’s names, home addresses, occupations or other personal information.”
“While there are serious questions implicated,” he wrote, “the Court cannot provide preliminary injunctive relief without infringing core constitutional rights.” He did, however, invite AARA to present new evidence of voter intimidation before the court in the future.
The League of Women Voters filed a separate lawsuit against the group this week, as well as conservative group Lions of Liberty and the Yavapai County Preparedness Team, for undertaking similar surveillance efforts in Yavapai County, Arizona. Lions of Liberty said it would end its surveillance operation.
Read the ruling below: