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U.S. Attorney names Arizona 'elections officer' to handle voting rights complaints, fraud claims

With the state's primary election just days away, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona appointed a dstrict election officer who will oversee complaints of voter rights violations and claims of election fraud, officials said Thursday. 

Sean Lokey, an assistant U.S. attorney, will lead those efforts in "consultation" with the Justice Department headquarters in Washington, said U.S. Attorney Gary Restaino said.

"Election Day is an opportunity for Arizona’s citizens to make their voices heard," said Restaino, the state's top federal prosecutor. "The Department of Justice has strong partnerships with the highly professional and dedicated election officials throughout the state. Together we can do our very best to ensure that every eligible voter who chooses to vote can do so easily and efficiently, without interference or discrimination."

The Justice Department has maintained district election officers for decades, and Lokey served in the role in 2020.

Justice Department officials have "an important role in deterring election fraud and discrimination at the polls and combating these violations whenever and wherever they occur," said Yvette Cantu, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney's Office. She added the Justice Department has a "long-standing" program designed to protect elections and "ensure public confidence in the integrity of the election process."

The office could pursue cases, including those against people who allegedly intimidated or bribed voters, sought to buy or sell votes. The office will also pursue cases against people who attempt to impersonate voters, alter vote tallies, "stuff" ballot boxes, or mark ballots for voters against their wishes.

Federal law also protects voters from acts that "intimidate or harass them," the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Officials said that for example, "actions designed to interrupt or intimidate voters at polling places by questioning, challenging, photographing, or videotaping them under the pretext that these are actions to uncover illegal voting may themselves violate federal voting rights law."

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The office's warning comes as some Republican candidates — wrongly believing that thousands of votes in the 2020 election were illegally delivered via ballot drop boxes — have pushed their supporters to video record people as they turn in their ballots.

On June 1, State Sen. Kelly Townsend called on "vigilantes" to spy on people as they used ballot drop boxes following a hearing featuring True the Vote, a conservative group that has pushed these claims. As part of this effort, True the Vote put out the film "2,000 mules," which claims hundreds of Democratic operatives, or "mules" were illegally paid to drop off false ballots.

However, as the Associated Press reported, the film is based on "faulty assumptions, anonymous accounts and improper analysis of cellphone location data" that despite the film's claims is "not precise enough to confirm that somebody deposited a ballot into a drop box, according to experts."

"Voting is the cornerstone of American democracy," wrote the U.S. Attorney's Office "We all must ensure that those who are entitled to vote exercise that right if they choose, and that those who seek to corrupt our elections are brought to justice."

She noted that Lokey will be "on duty" on August 2 for the primary, and will "respond to complaints of complaints of election fraud, voting rights violations, or intimidation."

Lokey can be reached by the public at 602-514-7516.

Cantu added the FBI will also have special agents based with the Phoenix Field Division available to receive allegations of election abuses on election day. The FBI in Arizona can be reached by phone at 623-466-1999 or online at https://tips.fbi.gov/.

Additionally, complaints about violations of the federal voting rights laws can be made directly to the Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C. People can call the office at 800-253-3931, or file complaint form online at https://civilrights.justice.gov/.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

A worker for Pima County receives ballots at a drive-thru for voters during the November 2020 election.