Reuters reports that Democratic Party officials sued the state Republican Party, the Donald Trump campaign, Roger Stone, Jr., and Stop the Steal, an independent organization that registers poll watchers to stop what it calls Democratic attempts to steal the presidential election from Trump in four battleground states on Monday. The lawsuits were filed in federal courts in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona and Ohio. The Democrats seek to shut down a poll-watching effort the Democrats claim is voter intimidation violating the 1965 Voting Rights Act and an 1871 law aimed at the Ku Klux Klan:
“Trump has sought to advance his campaign’s goal of ‘voter suppression’ by using the loudest microphone in the nation to implore his supporters to engage in unlawful intimidation,” the Ohio Democratic Party wrote in a legal filing. Similar language was used in the other lawsuits.
Trump has long urged his supporters to monitor polling locations on Election Day for signs of possible voting fraud.
Attorneys from the Ohio Republican Party are preparing a response:
“This is nothing more than a publicity stunt from the Ohio Democratic Party. The arguments cited are not at all related to our official operations at the Ohio Republican Party. Republican leadership in Ohio has created opportunities for greater ballot access and in no way would we ever be involved in the intimidation of voters,” Ohio Republican Party communications director Brittany Warner said in an email.
In Arizona an attorney who represents the state GOP, acknowledged the party wants people to show up at polling places and keep their eyes open. But he said nothing being pushed by Chairman Robert Graham is illegal:
“The stuff we’re talking about is legitimate poll-watching efforts,’’ he said.
“People have a right to be at the polls,’’ LaSota said, whether it’s to keep watch, hand out literature or even talking to – and questioning – people coming and going. “That’s called protected free speech.’’
The Democrats are trying to make the Trump campaign out to be an agent of the Republican National Committee. If they can convince the judges that the Trump campaign is engaging in voter intimidation it would be a violation of a consent decree banning the RNC from such activity.
That decree, which has been in place since 1982, was ordered in response to claims of voter intimidation against minorities in the 1970s and ’80s:
- The consent decree states that the RNC must “refrain from undertaking any ballot security activities in polling places or election districts where the racial or ethnic composition of such districts is a factor in the decision” to monitor those areas.
- It allows normal poll watching, like rallying supporters to vote, but not anything aimed at voter suppression, like posting armed guards at polling locations or questioning people in an intimidating way before they vote.
According to NPR, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the RNC’s plea to remove the consent decree in 2013, but added an expiration date of Dec. 1, 2017. If Trump is violating the decree, the Democrats could ask for an extension of up to eight years.
Trump spokesman Jason Miller says claims that volunteer poll observers could be a form of voter intimidation are unfounded:
“To be clear, liberals love to throw out the voter intimidation card. What we’re advocating are open, fair and honest elections,” Miller said in a statement to NPR’s Sarah McCammon.
He also added that poll watchers are “standard for professional campaigns” and pointed out poll watcher guides from around the country, including New York and Texas.
Roger Stone, a longtime Trump ally who is organizing an exit-polling effort, told Reuters that his project was designed to ensure that electronic voting machines were working properly. Stone said the 1,400 people across the United States who volunteered for the project had been instructed to use neutral language and only approach people after they had voted.
Stay tuned as we see whether the Democrats can get another election decided by litigation.
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