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How Arizona County Spent $665K Enforcing Election Laws

While activists staked out a Phoenix ballot drop box last year, toting guns and dressed in tactical gear, law enforcement officers found themselves also playing the role of front-line election workers. In interacting with these observers, local sheriff’s deputies explained and enforced complicated election laws, weighing whether observers’ face coverings, guns, and video cameras hindered people’s ability to vote, according to body-camera footage obtained by The Washington Post. The deputies handed out tips for following the law, calmly de-escalated tension, leveraged humor to gather information, and measured observers’ distance from a drop box to ensure they were within the law. The 45 minutes of footage offers a rare window into the new role law enforcement is playing in Arizona’s elections, where bands of self-styled civilian watchdogs mistrustful of voting systems and the government took it upon themselves during the midterm election early-voting period to gather evidence of improprieties they believed could happen. The scenes played out in Maricopa County, home to most of the state’s voters and an epicenter of the election denialism movement that fueled efforts to reverse the 2020 election results.

During encounters with three groups of observers last October, deputies tried to minimize the threat and disruption to voters but could not infringe on the observers’ rights to freedom of speech and to carry weapons under Arizona law. The deputies employed tactics learned in an election-focused training months earlier. Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone recalls warning them their interactions with observers would be closely watched and judged. “Although it may not be a fundamental task that we ever expected to participate in, it is absolutely an obligation if we expect our nation to remain stable,” he said. “I just never expected to dedicate this volume of resources for that cause.” The office spent $665,000 on law enforcement surrounding the 2022 midterm election, including personnel overtime, temporary fencing that surrounded the county’s vote-counting center to control access, and responding to reports of observers at the county’s two outdoor drop boxes, Penzone said. He expects this sort of work to increase with the presidential election next year.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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