Republicans are urging vigilantes to watch ballot drop boxes, polling locations, to sniff out fraud

By: - August 2, 2022 6:30 am

Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

At a nearly 4-hour “election security forum,” Lake Havasu Republican Sonny Borrelli and Oro Valley Republican Representative Mark Finchem both had the same message for the fired up audience in attendance: Watch the drop boxes. 

“We need to be force multipliers,” Borrelli told the crowd in Tempe Saturday. “We need to have people camped on unmanned drop boxes and camp on those and keep an eye on them and take down that data, license plates, pictures and so on and so forth.”

Borrelli’s call to action is similar to one made earlier this year by Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who praised “vigilantes” who intended to spy on dropboxes; she implored them to use trail cameras and to get people’s license plate numbers. The calls to action stems from allegations made in a highly flawed film by controversial filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza.

And Mark Finchem, one of the state’s loudest proponents of baseless election fraud claims who is running to oversee elections as secretary of state, urged attendees to show up at their local polling places on Tuesday to monitor voters and watch for suspicious activity.

“Stand 75 feet away from the entrance of the polls,” Finchem, who is running for Secretary of State, said. “The mere fact that you are there watching scares the hell out of them.”

There is an official process for election observers at polling locations. Observers must be authorized by a political party. Only one can be at each polling site, and they cannot interact with voters.

Republicans and activists have been gearing up for poll watching and drop box watching parties across the state, boosted by candidates and election deniers. Scott Presler, who gained fame in conservative circles for traveling across the country picking up trash in Democratic run cities, is planning to recruit volunteers to watch drop boxes in the state. Presler also was the national coordinator for an anti-Muslim group whose leader has said that Muslims should not be Americans because they cannot be loyal to the country.

Dropboxes have become a focal point among election fraud believers and during Arizona’s past legislative session, a litany of bills were presented to ban, limit or change their use. In Maricopa County, the county with the largest population, there are only two outdoor drop boxes — one of which is at the county elections headquarters.

“Sounds boring. And hot,” Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer told the Arizona Mirror about those who plan to monitor drop boxes in Maricopa County. “And if you harass, intimidate, or deter a voter, it’s unlawful.” 

Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone has previously said that his office is pouring resources into protection of polling places and watching “trends” to ensure that no bad actors harass or intimidate election officials. 

But other sheriffs are embracing conspiracy theory rhetoric to police drop boxes. 

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Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, along with another organization he has a lead role in, has partnered with True the Vote, a conspiratorial organization that worked with D’Souza on his flawed election fraud film. 

“We will engage voters, we’ll help clear up confusion through education and where necessary Sheriffs can and will investigate where laws are being broken,” Lamb says in a video on the Protect America Vote website. 

Protect America Vote is a nonprofit that aims to educate voters and connect them with local sheriffs and give local sheriffs the resources they need to investigate election-related issues. True the Vote has raised millions of dollars claiming to have found voter fraud in multiple elections but has never released evidence.

When the Mirror asked the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office about True the Vote’s track record on election fraud claims and claims of non-partisanship, spokeswoman Lauren Reimer referred those questions to Protect America, Lamb’s other organization. 

“PCSO has added extra patrols to polling sites and ballot collection boxes,” Reimer said. “Reports of any election laws being broken will be investigated. We encourage everyone to review our state laws prior to voting. You can find them in our Secretary of State’s Election Procedures Manual. As it pertains to the rest of your questions, you will have to reach out to that group directly for comment.” 

Reimer did not respond to follow up inquiries, and Protect America Now did not respond to the Mirror’s request for comment. Protect America Now told Reuters that it would be surveilling drop boxes and using “artificial intelligence” software to analyze surveillance video. 

“There have not been any discussions with the Recorder’s Office related to the program you reference,” James Daniels, a spokesman for the Pinal County Recorder’s Office, said to the Mirror. “But Sheriff Lamb has gone out of his way to be supportive to Pinal County through our recent ballot error issues, only offering his time and effort to help get across the important message to impacted municipalities that they must vote a separate municipal-only ballot for their city/town contests.” 

Lamb is part of a larger contingent of sheriffs that True the Vote has spurred into action across the country and they have around 70 sheriffs in 30 states, according to Reuters. It also includes supporters like former Graham County Sheriff Richard Mack of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, an anti-government extremist group with ties to the Oath Keepers

Back at the “election security forum,” gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and other state lawmakers said they intend to bring back failed “election integrity” bills next session including banning drop boxes and making voting a one-day event. 

Still, Lake still encouraged the crowd to mail in their ballots if they hadn’t done so yet. 

“We will drag it back out into the spotlight and we will find every loophole they use to cheat,” Lake said about the perceived issue of election fraud.

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joins the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. Jerod has also won awards for his documentary films which have covered issues such as religious tolerance and surveillance technology used by police. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.

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