Group challenges restrictions in Arizona election manual on ballot drop-off locations

A conservative group is challenging parts of Arizona's election procedures manual, marking the third lawsuit filed within the last two weeks that seeks to throw out provisions in the state's guide for conducting elections.

The lawsuit by the Arizona Free Enterprise Club zeroes in on the manual's instructions on operating ballot drop-off locations and preventing voter intimidation, saying the provisions are unconstitutional because they try to restrict protected speech. The group says the restrictions in the manual released in December by Democratic Secretary of State Adrian Fontes' office put people at risk to criminal prosecution for monitoring drop boxes and polling locations.

Complaints were made during Arizona's 2022 election season that people wearing masks and carrying guns were intimidating voters who bring ballots to drop boxes in Arizona.

The manual said election officials may restrict activities that interfere with access to ballot drop-off locations. In a footnote, the manual gave examples of voter intimidation or harassment, including intentionally following someone delivering ballots to a drop box.

A driver drops ballots into a ballot drop box for early voting outside of the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center ahead of the Arizona midterm elections in Phoenix, Arizona on November 3, 2022. (File photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Gett

The manual also gave examples of what might be considered intimidation inside and outside polling places. Those include taunting or using threatening language toward a voter or election worker and directly confronting or photographing voters or poll workers in a harassing or intimidating manner.

Fontes' office on Tuesday declined to comment on the lawsuit, which was filed on Friday.

Another lawsuit filed late last month by Arizona Senate President Warren Petersen and House Speaker Ben Toma alleged that parts of the manual conflicted with state law.

For example, Petersen and Toma took issue with the manual's instruction on how to regard voters who respond on juror questionnaires that they don't live in the relevant county in question and haven't responded within 35 days to a notice from the county recorder to confirm their residency status. 

The manual says those voters should be marked as inactive, while the legislative leaders say state law says those voters' registrations should be cancelled, according to the lawsuit.

On Friday, the Republican National Committee, Republican Party of Arizona and Yavapai County Republican Party filed a lawsuit over several provisions of the manual. Among the lawsuit's claims was an allegation that the period for public comment on the manual was too short.