Arizona is on high alert ahead of the midterm elections.

The state is one of the closest divided states, and the FBI and Justice Department say Arizona is one of the top states for threats against election workers. While multiple audits confirmed that President Joe Biden narrowly won the state in 2020, some Republican candidates and voters believe the election was stolen. Amateur poll watchers in Maricopa County hoping to guard against fraud have camped out near ballot drop boxes and been accused of voter intimidation.

Last week, armed people were spotted at a ballot drop box in Mesa.

Arizona leaders have called on these ballot box observers to let voters cast their ballots in peace, and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office said it’s devoting manpower to keep polling sites safe.

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“Every day I’m dedicating a considerable amount of resources just to give people confidence that they can cast a vote and that is absurd,” Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said at a press conference Monday. “It’s absurd to think that any individual can’t go to a vote box and drop their ballot.”

He said officers are “focused on this versus burglaries and crimes against children and robberies and all the stuff we should be doing, 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.”

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican, said in a joint statement with fellow Republican and County Board Chair Bill Gates that, “uninformed vigilantes outside Maricopa County drop boxes are not increasing election integrity,” and Arizona Secretary of State and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs called intimidation efforts “unacceptable.”

The Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans and Voto Latino filed a lawsuit against Clean Elections USA, accusing the group of staging stakeouts at drop boxes and intimidating voters. In the suit, the plaintiffs said the group photographs and video records voters. Clean Elections USA’s founder, Melody Jennings, said their “goal is to be a deterrent,” per the complaint.

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One possible way to deescalate the situation with the amateur poll watchers would be to let them get involved in the election process as observers or volunteers, said Nick Stagnaro, a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University who worked on the Strengthening Democracy Challenge.

“I’m going to start off with the idea that you just care about election integrity and you’re just given some misinformation,” Stagnaro said. “I’m going to try to be a good faith actor to help you understand it and say, you know, come take a look, be a part of this.”

A sign points voters in the direction of the polling station in Phoenix as Arizona voters go the polls to cast their ballots on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022. | Ross D. Franklin, Associated Press

He also said Republicans could help reduce tensions.

“If you could find people who say look, I’m a consistent long-term Republican voter, I know you care about election integrity and this isn’t helping,” he said. “If you want to show up, I’ll personally support you guys showing up and being an election observer, we have the tools for that, just don’t show up with assault rifles and freak people out.”

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A number of Republican candidates in Arizona have cast doubt on the 2020 election, including Senate candidate Blake Masters, gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, who said she wouldn’t have certified the results, and Mark Finchem, who’s running to be secretary of state, Arizona’s top election official.

U.S. voters are worried about violence surrounding the midterm elections. A Reuters-Ipsos poll released this week found 43% are concerned about threats of violence or voter intimidation while voting in person and 67% are concerned that extremists will commit acts of violence after the election if they’re unhappy with the outcome.

Earlier this week, the Phoenix campaign headquarters for Hobbs, the secretary of state and Democratic gubernatorial candidate, was burglarized. A suspect was arrested Friday, but law enforcement hasn’t said whether the break-in was politically motivated.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband Paul was attacked by an intruder at the couple’s San Francisco home Friday. The man shouted, “Where is Nancy?” according to The Associated Press.