Judge Stops Arizona "Mule Watchers" From Ballot Box Surveillance Tactics

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by Tyler Durden
Thursday, Nov 03, 2022 - 03:10 AM

A federal judge in Arizona has put the brakes on various tactics used by self-described "mule watchers" - who have been surveilling ballot boxes by taking photos and videos and posting information online, often while wearing body armor and weapons.

The group, Clean Elections USA, says it wants to prevent voter fraud by staking out ballot boxes to catch "mules" - people who illegally catch multiple ballots.

In a lawsuit against the "Mule Watchers" - named after the 2022 film "2,000 Mules" which claimed evidence of systematic election fraud - a group called the League of Women Voters said the election integrity group's actions amounted to "time-tested methods of voter intimidation."

Prior to a Tuesday hearing on the matter, the mule watchers agreed to cease some activities, such as open-carrying firearms or wearing visible body armor within 250 feet of ballot boxes, the NY Times reports.

Judge Michael T. Liburdi agreed with the League, issuing a temporary restraining order which prohibits the mule watchers "and other persons in active concert or participation with" from taking photos or videos of voters, or spreading information about voters online - as well as "making false statements" about the state's statutes regarding early voting.

"It is imperative we balance the defendants’ right to engage in First Amendment-protected activity with the plaintiffs’ right to act without intimidation or harassment," Liburdi said following a long hearing in Phoenix, which included testimony from a man who said he was harassed at a ballot box. He went on to say Clean Elections founder Melody Jennings went on Steve Bannon's podcast to say they had 'caught a mule.'

According to the man, who testified without revealing his name publicly for fear of harassment, eight to 10 people filmed the couple and told them they were “hunting mules.” Images of him and his car were posted online and Ms. Jennings subsequently appeared on the podcast of Stephen K. Bannon, the former Trump adviser, saying they had caught a mule and “blasted it out viral.”

Judge Liburdi called his experience particularly compelling, and noted that it went well beyond testimony from last week in a parallel case against Clean Elections USA. In that lawsuit, brought by the Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans and Voto Latino, the judge declined to enjoin Clean Elections USA’s activities, saying he had not seen any evidence that real harm had befallen any voters. That ruling is being appealed in the Ninth Circuit. -NYT

Liburdi also called out Jennings for incorrectly claiming that only spouses could return ballots on behalf of Arizona voters, when in fact housemates and caregivers may do so as well.

"This does not prohibit Miss Jennings from correctly stating what the law is," said the judge, who said he would be drafting a preliminary injunction against Clean Elections USA over the next few days. "I just have a problem with her stating it incorrectly in a way that is intimidating or coercive to voting behavior."

A lawyer for Clean Elections USA and Ms. Jennings, Alexander Kolodin, said he would most likely appeal the ruling - arguing that restrictions on photography or online posting and discussing AZ voting laws infringed on free speech.

"It seems like our clients are on trial for the entire state or anybody who wants to participate in ballot box monitoring or even share their views," he said.