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Federal Judge Limits Surveillance Methods For Arizona Ballot Box ‘Mule Watchers’

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A group of self-described “mule watchers” who have taken to watching ballot boxes in Arizona and then posting photos, videos, and information about alleged “mules” online has been restricted in the tactics they can use to patrol ballot boxes.

A “mule’ is someone who illegally cast multiple ballots and the group, Clean Elections USA, has taken to posting members near ballot boxes to watch for mules and to take photos and record videos that the group then publically posts online to shame anyone they deem to be a “mule.” The group claims that they watch ballot boxes in an effort to prevent voter fraud.

Another group, the League of Women Voters have accused Clean Elections USA of engaging in “time -tested methods of voter intimidation” and brought forth a lawsuit against the election integrity group.

At a hearing on Tuesday, Judge Michael T. Liburdi sided with the League and issued a restraining order against the mule watchers. The order prohibits Clean Elections USA “and other persons in active convert or participation with” the group from taking photos or videos and spreading information about specific voters online or from “making false statements” about Arizona’s early voting statutes.

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The restraining order comes after the group had agreed on its own to stop open-carrying firearms and wearing body armor within 250 feet of ballot boxes, according to the New York Times.

Judge Liburdi had a difficult time balancing the rights of both Clean Election USA and the League of Women Voters. “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,” Judge Liburdi said.

The hearing, which was in Phoenix, included testimony from a man who claimed that he was harassed by Clean Elections USA at the ballot box. According to the witness, 8-10 people filmed him at the ballot box and then photos of he and his car were posted online with the founder of the organization going on Steve Bannon’s podcast and claiming that the group had “caught a mule.”

Judge Liburdi also took issue with the founder, Melody Jennings, misstating that the voter law only allows spouses to return ballots on someone’s behalf when the law actually allows for spouses, housemates, or caregivers to return ballots. Judge Liburdi said, “This does not prohibit Miss Jennings from correctly stating what the law is. I just have a problem with her stating it incorrectly in a way that is intimidating to coercive to voting behavior.”

According to Alexander Kolodin, the attorney for Clean Elections USA and Jennings, the group plans to appeal the decision stating that restrictions on photography and posting things online violate laws protecting freedom of speech.

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