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Group to stop ballot drop box monitoring in Arizona's Yavapai County

A voter inserts a ballot in a drive-up drop box last week in Renton, Wash., in that state's primary. With more states expanding absentee voting due to the pandemic, the use of drop boxes is growing and leading to legal challenges from some Republicans.
Jason Redmond
/
AFP via Getty Images
A voter inserts a ballot in a drive-up drop box. The use of drop boxes is growing and leading to legal challenges from some Republicans.

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- The Lions of Liberty is halting its Operation Drop Box monitoring operation in Arizona's Yavapai County.
The move on Thursday comes just days after the organization was named in a lawsuit seeking a federal court order to restrain its activities.
But Luke Cilano, a board member of Lions of Liberty, told Capitol Media Services the real impetus behind the decision was that the lawsuit lumped his group in with the controversial Clean Elections USA and Melody Jennings, its founder.
He said reports have linked that organization with activities that could be considered voter intimidation like following voters and posting photos of them and their license plates online actions Cilano said that the Lions of Liberty never contemplated.
"It's being said that they're doing certain things and we are also doing part of those certain things,'' he said.
There also were statements that Jennings made that the purpose of stationing armed monitors dressed in tactical gear near drop boxes was to scare off "mules'' she contends are trying to stuff the boxes with multiple ballots, what Cilano described as "Melody popping off with things she shouldn't say.
So he said the Lions of Liberty felt it was necessary to put some distance between his group and Clean Elections USA.
"We have integrity,'' he said.
"We hold very tightly to the rule of law,'' Cilano said. "And we are not violating any of that.''
Cilano said his group anticipated being sued after getting a demand letter earlier this month from the Protect Democracy Project contending its activities violate state and federal laws.
That came after the Lions of Liberty and the Yavapai County Preparedness Team announced Operation Drop Box.
A web site for the operation sought "patriots'' to take two-hour shifts watching the 19 drop boxes in the county. And it asked volunteers to bring a phone or camera to take pictures of anyone depositing more ballots than their own.
But Cilano said there never was an intent to intimidate would-be voters.
He said the watchers would be on public land, with anything they saw and photographed would be turned over to the county sheriff. And he said that volunteers would not be visibly armed with assault-style weapons as has been the case with some reports about activities in Maricopa County conducted by Clean Elections USA.
"We're not vigilantes,'' Cilano said Thursday.
A separate "stand down order'' sent to members of the Lions of Liberty and the Yavapai County Preparedness Team stressed the need for separation from groups "whose desire for law and order is much less than ours.''
Less clear is what happens with the lawsuit filed earlier this week by the League of Women Voters against Lions of Liberty and the Yavapai County Preparedness Team now that Cilano's organization is no longer planning to watch drop boxes. And Cilano sad the other group never was involved in the project as it is a tax-exempt charity that cannot participate in political activities.
That would leave only Jennings and Clean Elections USA as defendants in that lawsuit.
But they already are facing civil charges of voter intimidation in a separate civil case alleging voter intimidation playing out before U.S. District Court Judge Michael Liburdi. And the judge has said he will try to issue a ruling by Friday on whether he will enjoin their activities near drop boxes.
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On Twitter: @azcapmedia