A federal judge on Tuesday ended a consent decree banning the Republican National Committee from engaging in ballot security activities, giving a major boost to Republicans’ efforts to suppress minority voters.
The consent decree has been in place since 1982, when the RNC was found to be engaging in “voter caging” in predominantly African-American and Latino neighborhoods, and has required a federal court to review Republicans’ proposed “ballot security” programs. Now, for the first time in 35 years, the RNC will be permitted to engage in these activities without oversight.
Voting advocates are already sounding the alarm. Rick Hasen, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, School of Law, wrote that it’s likely the RNC will now coordinate with President Trump to depress minority voter turnout.
“With Trump the real head of the Republican Party these days, it is quite possible he could order a national effort to combat phantom voter fraud, just like he did with his own campaign,” he wrote in Slate. “Indeed, making false claims about Democratic and minority voter chicanery is a cornerstone of Trump’s divisive agenda. Yelling voter fraud riles up the base, helps with fundraising, and can depress minority voter turnout.”
The RNC tried to escape the consent decree after the 2008 election, but the court denied the request, ordering it to remain in place until December 2017. In 2016, the DNC tried to further extend the protections, claiming that the RNC violated the decree in 2016 by coordinating with the Trump campaign on ballot-security operations, but a district court denied the request.
In a statement, the RNC said it’s grateful that the judge rejected the Democrats’ “baseless claims.”
“Today’s ruling will allow the RNC to work more closely with state parties and campaigns to do what we do best, ensure that more people vote through our unmatched field program,” said RNC spokesman Michael Ahrens.
The order comes just a week after Trump ended the commission he created to look into his claim that millions of illegal voters cast him the popular vote. Hasen said that this could give the president new leverage to pursue that false allegation.
“The removal of the consent decree could supercharge voter suppression efforts, offering Trump the opportunity to hijack the RNC and direct it toward his own efforts to explain away his 3 million voter loss in the American popular vote and rile his base against poor and minority voters,” he wrote.
This story has been updated to include comment from the RNC.