An election ballot drop box is shown outside Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center in downtown Phoenix on Sept. 25, 2020. Photo by Brandon Quester | AZCIR
Groups that help voters are concerned that, if efforts by conspiracy theorists and extremists continue at drop boxes, they’ll have to shift focus — and, for the first time ever, tell voters to not vote in certain ways.
“We have two weeks left to educate these people and we are afraid people just won’t vote,” Dora Vasquez, executive director for the Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans said in a federal court hearing last month seeking to bar groups from surveilling drop boxes.
Vasquez’s group is one of a few that are seeking an injunction against three groups — the Arizona chapter of the Oath Keepers, the Yavapai County-based Lions of Liberty and Clean Elections USA, which is run by QAnon-linked Melody Jennings — from continuing to surveil drop boxes.
Vasquez said her organization dedicates 100% of its resources to educating senior voters in Arizona about the elections and how to vote. Seniors make up about 27% of the electorate, she said.
“This wasn’t an issue in any previous elections,” Vasquez said about voter intimidation, adding that the Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans is concerned that some seniors will now choose not to participate over fears of being surveilled or threatened.
Seniors are already facing harassment at drop boxes. One 70-year-old voter and his wife filed a formal complaint, alleging they were attempting to drop off their ballots at a Mesa drop box — which has become a point of contention — when they were approached by at least five men in their twenties and thirties. After depositing their ballots, the men began taking photos of them, their car and license plate, telling the couple it was for “election security.”
The men allegedly continued to film the couple and their car as they left.
At least six incidents have been reported thus far, and the Secretary of State’s Office has referred five cases to state and federal prosecutors.
“A lot of us have been in isolation because of the pandemic and so we are more prone to watch TV,” Vasquez said of the senior community, adding that the ongoing coverage of the issue may add to additional fears. Now her group, whose entire yearly budget is $80,000, is debating if pushing to educate senior voters on safety around drop boxes is necessary given the current climate.
“At this point, I’m willing to take a cut in pay if we have to get those digital ads,” Vasquez told the court.
But Vasquez’s group wasn’t the only one who would be seeing an impact in how it would communicate with voters given the new climate.
“We have never had to prioritize one method of voting over another,” Ameer Patel, vice president of programs for Voto Latino, testified in court. Patel said that if voter intimidation efforts continue, that their organization possibly would have to tell voters to use other forms of voting, such as just mailing in a ballot or going to a more secure polling place.
Voto Latino is an organization that focuses on getting the Latino community out to vote and vote early, Patel said. Drop boxes are “exceptionally important” to the Latino community, as their research has found that many Latino voters were unable to access early voting sites. About 42,000 ballots have been dropped off at drop boxes as of Oct. 30.
Both organizations admitted that no matter what group or whoever continues the actions, they’ll likely have to dedicate resources to helping inform voters about their other voting options and how to remain safe.
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