We’re about two weeks away from Election Day, but some voter intimidation efforts are already underway in Arizona, painting an ominous picture of just how far some Big Lie activists may go to push their debunked voter fraud narrative during the midterms.
Two armed individuals dressed in tactical gear were spotted lingering around a ballot drop box in Mesa, Arizona, on Friday evening, CNN first reported. They left when the county sheriff arrived.
BREAKING: @mcsoaz tells @abc15 they are looking into several individuals watching a voter drop box in Mesa, AZ.— Nicole Grigg (@NicoleSGrigg) October 22, 2022
I’m told they have magazine clips, dressed in tactical gear, fully disguised. @Garrett_Archer
It’s not the first report of voter intimidation at drop boxes in the state in recent days. In a separate incident, a pair of activists reportedly filmed, photographed and harassed a couple of voters turning in their early ballots.
“There’s a group of people hanging out near the ballot dropbox and accusing us of being a mule,” the voter who reported the incident said, according to CNN. The incident has been referred to the DOJ and the state attorney general’s office.
“We have received the referral and are currently reviewing it,” Brittni Thomason, spokesperson for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, told Vice News. “Everyone should feel safe exercising their voting rights. If someone feels threatened, please contact local law enforcement right away.”
The “mule” accusation was presumably inspired by the conspiracy theory that fueled the production of “2000 Mules,” the documentary directed by right-wing provocateur Dinesh D’Souza alleging widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.
“We are deeply concerned about the safety of individuals who are exercising their constitutional right to vote and who are lawfully taking their early ballot to a drop box,” Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates and Recorder Stephen Richer said in a joint statement released on Saturday.
“For those who want to be involved in election integrity, become a poll worker or an official observer with your political party,” the joint statement said. “Don’t dress in body armor to intimidate voters as they are legally returning their ballots.”
The incidents are two of a few that have been reported in Arizona since early voting started mid-October.
“We have received four reports forwarded by the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office,” Justin Heywood, a spokesperson for the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, told Vice News on Friday. He also said that the county has “taken active steps to ensure the safety and security of staff and voters, but many of these self-styled ‘drop box watchers’ have the right to be on public sidewalks and parking lots.”
When asked whether she’d heard about the incident, 2020 election denier and Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake said that she hadn’t, but used the opportunity to preemptively sow distrust in the midterms, telling CNN that it “just shows you how concerned people are.”
“We can’t have half of the population or more doubting our elections,” she said. “It’s not impossible to restore honesty and integrity to our elections. And I assure you, when I’m governor, we will do that.”
Much of Lake’s talk about election integrity is nothing more than a campaign strategy to get Trump supporters and Big Lie adherents on her side. How exactly Lake intends to “restore honesty and integrity” is—likely, purposely—unclear. The state has enacted several new restrictive voting laws since 2020 and conducted a post-election sham “audit” of the 2020 that found no actual evidence of voter fraud.
Lake also hasn’t played much of a role in instilling trust in the system herself: When repeatedly asked last week whether she’d accept the results of her election if she lost, she refused to clarify her stance, stating simply “I’m going to win the election and accept that result.”