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Arizona city pulls police from early voting sites after intimidation complaints

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The Democratic mayor of Tucson, Arizona, has barred police officers from providing security at early voting sites, forcing the Pima County Elections Department to seek outside help. 

Mayor Regina Romero said Friday that the move is aimed at addressing possible voter intimidation.

Romera said the decision was made jointly with City Manager Michael Ortega and Police Chief Chris Magnus, after several organizatons wrote a letter expressing concerns about the police presence.

According to the county recorder’s office, off-duty officers were initially hired to secure polling sites after workers raised questions about poll watchers pestering Arizonans as they cast their ballots. 

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County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez, a Democrat, said Tucson Police officers had provided security without incident and that her office received no complaints. 

In a Friday statement, Rodriguez assured voters they would be able to cast their ballots “without incident,” despite the departure of Tucson police, with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department stepping in to provide security at all the county’s voting sites through the end of the early voting period on Nov. 2.

“We presently have observers or people holding signs at our early voting locations standing outside the 75-foot limit, which is allowed by law,” Rodriguez continued. “Some view this as intimidation. Police are there to make sure that matters do not get out of control because of differing viewpoints.” 

The Arizona Daily Star reported Friday that Rodriguez had been notified on Oct. 20 that Tucson leadership had instructed the company that handles off-duty Tucson officers to withdraw them from voting locations, but Rodriguez told The Associated Press on Friday she did not hear from the city until Thursday.

“We were given next to no notice,” she noted in the press release. “We were sent an email at 7:30 p.m. on October 21st which was not read until 7:30 a.m. the next day when early voting sites opened and there were no off-duty officers at the Tucson locations.” 

Rodriguez argued that every other jurisdiction in the country supported the officers’ presence and that she was just trying to protect voters and her employees.

President Donald Trump talks to reporters at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in Phoenix, with Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Donald Trump talks to reporters at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in Phoenix, with Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

For Tucson’s mayor “to take a political stand because she disagrees with me is a disservice to the voters in Pima County,” Rodriguez told The Associated Press. “Regina Romero has never conducted an election. This is my seventh presidential election. They have absolutely no knowledge of what it takes to do and conduct an election and the possible things you need to prepare for.”

Arizona has become one of the battleground states to watch this year, with Democratic candidates leading by slim margins in both the general election and Senate race. 

According to the Real Clear Politics averages, former Vice President Joe Biden is currently leading President Trump by just over 2 percentage points. In the Senate race, former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, a Democrat, is ahead of the Republican incumbent, Martha McSally by almost 6 percentage points.

While Republicans hope victory in the traditionally red state can shore up re-election prospects for the president, Democrats see both races as key in their quest to take back the White House and Senate. 

Early voting kicked off on Oct. 7, with about 281,000 Democrats and 218,000 Republicans turning in ballots so far.

Arizona’s first week of early voting has set records this year, with the number of ballots returned almost doubling from 2018 in the Copper State’s three largest counties.

Poll workers and voters will get some backup from the city, according to reporting from KOLD-TV

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In a statement, the Tucson Police Department said it would have officers roving polling areas to respond to disturbances. 

Tucson Police Officers Association President Tony Archibald said that while department members want voters to feel safe, they disagree with the city’s decision.

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