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Arizona poll watchers ordered to keep their distance in US midterm vote

Voting for the midterm elections has been underway for the past 10 days in Arizona

SELF-APPOINTED BALLOT BOX watchers in Arizona who have been accused of intimidating voters in the run up to US midterm elections have been ordered to keep their distance.

Groups of people, some of them masked, wearing tactical gear and carrying guns, have been looming over drop boxes in the state, saying they are there to prevent a repeat of the ballot stuffing they claim – without evidence – cost Donald Trump the presidency in 2020.

But a federal judge on Tuesday ordered members of Clean Elections USA, which is co-ordinating the campaign, to stay at least 23 metres (75 feet) from the boxes, and said they could not openly carry weapons or body armor within 75 metres.

Poll watchers can not take photographs or otherwise record individuals within the drop box zones either.

They are also not permitted “unless spoken to or yelled at first, (to) speak to or yell at an individual who that Defendant knows is (i) returning ballots to the drop box, and (ii) who is within 75 feet of the drop box,” the restraining order says.

Arizona’s secretary of state Katie Hobbs, who is overseeing this month’s election in the state, hailed the judge’s order as “a win for voters, who should always be able to exercise their right to vote without harassment.

Voting for the midterm elections has been underway for the past 10 days in Arizona, a state where President Joe Biden beat Trump by just 10,000 votes in 2020, and which subsequently became the center of a sweeping conspiracy theory by rightwingers who refuse to accept the legitimacy of the election.

In Mesa, a suburb of Phoenix, sheriff’s deputies removed two armed men in paramilitary clothing last week.

Several associations have filed complaints denouncing a “campaign of intimidation”, co-ordinated by self-proclaimed “patriots”.

On Tuesday, Judge Michael Liburdi also banned Clean Elections USA from spreading false information online about the election, after its founder Melody Jennings made erroneous claims about who could deliver ballots to the drop boxes.

“This does not prohibit Miss Jennings from correctly stating what the law is,” Liburdi, said, according to The New York Times.

“I just have a problem with her stating it incorrectly in a way that is intimidating or coercive to voting behavior.”

Multiple investigations, including a partial recount organized by Republicans, failed to find evidence of fraud in the 2020 election in Arizona.

But the claim that the ballot was rigged is lore among a significant chunk of the Republican electorate.

Arizona’s Republican candidates for governor, senator and secretary of state all still claim the vote was fixed.

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