Arizona sheriff increasing security around ballot drop boxes after people with tactical gear show up in suburb

The sheriff in Maricopa County, Ariz., said Monday his office is heightening security around ballot drop boxes after armed individuals in tactical gear were spotted outside a voting site in the state.

“The more folks there are that are creating problems, the more deputies that you’re going to see on the streets focused on this versus burglaries and crimes against children and robberies and all the stuff we should be doing,” Sheriff Paul Penzone said at a press conference on election security.

“But we’ll come and we’ll babysit polling sites because people have to misbehave, if that’s what we have to do to protect democracy.”

Arizona officials on Saturday sounded alarms about armed “vigilantes” dressed in tactical gear and posted outside a drop box in Mesa, a Phoenix suburb, in Maricopa County.

Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates and Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer said in a joint statement after the incident that they were “deeply concerned about the safety of individuals who are exercising their constitutional right to vote and who are lawfully taking their early ballot to a drop box.”

Last week, the Arizona secretary of state referred a case of possible voter intimidation to the U.S. Department of Justice and the state’s attorney general following reports that a voter attempting to cast their ballot in Maricopa County was “approached and followed” by a group.

Penzone said Monday that his office had received 14 election-related tips and processed two suspicious activity reports, though nothing suggesting a “deep conspiracy.”

“I see that every day I’m dedicating a considerable amount of resources just to give people confidence that they can cast a vote safely, and that is absurd,” Penzone said.

“It’s absurd to think that any individual can’t go to a vote box and drop their ballot, that you can’t go to a polling site and not be harassed, that you can’t cast your vote and at the conclusion see an election and have confidence that the outcomes are just.”

President Biden won Arizona narrowly in 2020, and Maricopa County came into particular focus when the Arizona state Senate contracted the firm Cyber Ninjas to conduct a controversial audit of the presidential results after former President Trump claimed the election was stolen from him.

The audit ultimately confirmed Biden’s win in the state.

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