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Group monitoring ballot boxes in Arizona ordered to stop using 'Clean Elections' name

A voter casts their ballot at a secure ballot drop box at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center in Phoenix, Nov. 1, 2022.
Matt York
A voter casts their ballot at a secure ballot drop box at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center in Phoenix, Nov. 1, 2022.

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Clean Elections USA has been ordered to immediately stop using its name in Arizona.
In a new ruling, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Scott Blaney said the organization is not just confusing Arizonans with its name but is causing actual damage to the Citizens Clean Elections Commission. He said the activities of the organization and its founder, Melody Jennings, have resulted in calls and emails "from angry members of the public who were confused'' and who assumed that it was the commission that was directing people to watch the drop boxes to look for people submitting multiple ballots.
"Some of these communications were laced with profanity and accused (the commission) of 'voter intimidation,' employing 'vigilantes' working for a particular political party and/or political candidates, referred to (commission) employees as 'thugs' and 'rabid animals' and suggested that the only solution was to 'put them down,' '' Blaney wrote. He also said people were referring to commission employees as "racist fascists'' and as "liars.''
The judge pointed out that nothing in his order precludes Jennings from expressing her political views or from engaging in political activities.
All it does, said Blaney, is keep Jennings from using the name "Clean Elections USA'' or any similar variant in connection with any current or future election activities "when such uses are likely to reach Arizona residents.'' And that includes social media postings, websites, emails, podcasts and any other media.
Separately, the judge ordered Jennings to remove a posting titled "10+ Ways The Election Was Rigged in Maricopa County'' from her organization's website. That includes various unfounded allegations about the 2020 elections.
But he said she is free to post it on any other website or social media site that does not use the words "Clean Elections'' or anything that would cause confusion with the commission.''
There was no immediate response from Jennings.
The commission filed suit earlier this month amid those efforts by Jennings to get volunteers to monitor drop boxes.
Tom Collins, the commission's executive director, said that has absolutely nothing to do with his organization which was created by voters in 1998.
It activities include providing funds for statewide and legislative candidates who agree to limit donations from outside interests. But it also has a public education function, including sponsoring debates and publishing materials designed to provide information and encourage people to vote.
" 'Clean Elections' in Arizona means to tell the truth about elections,'' he said.
" 'Clean Elections USA' does not stand for telling the truth about elections,'' Collins said. "It stands for discouraging people from voting in Arizona.''
At a court hearing last week, Jennings, who was defending herself, acknowledged that her organization has used that name only for several months. But she argued that people have been misled about the purpose of her group.
"We are absolutely for voters,'' she said, describing her box watchers as "grandmothers, sitting in lawn chairs, with their little sun hats on.''
And Jennings said that was "not to intimidate'' but "you know there are people there protecting the vote from people we believe would have nefarious intent to come and stuff the boxes with more ballots than is legal.''
Blaney found none of that relevant to the legal question of whether Jennings and her organization were illegally infringing on the Clean Elections name.
This is the second court loss for Jennings.
Late last month, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Liburdi sharply restricted the activities of Jennings and her organization in monitoring drop boxes. That includes a prohibition on taking videos of people who are within 75 feet of the boxes and posting images of voters who they claim are violating state law solely because they deposited more than one ballot in a drop box.
And while Liburdi did not preclude people from simply watching while being at least 75 feet away, he did say anyone who is visibly armed or dressed in tactical gear must remain at least 250 feet from the drop boxes.
On Twitter: @azcapmedia