The Republican National Committee and its nominee, Donald Trump, will be able to continue their plans to conduct “ballot security” measures in search of “voter fraud” at polling locations nationwide, a federal judge ruled late Saturday afternoon.
Judge John Michael Vazquez sided with the RNC and denied the contempt, injunction, and extension of a decades-old consent decree sought by the Democratic National Committee.
Last week, the DNC asked the court to hold the RNC in contempt for “supporting and enabling” GOP nominee Donald Trump’s efforts to “intimidate and discourage minority voters from voting in the 2016 Presidential Election.” They said this violated a decades-old consent decree that barred the RNC from engaging in “ballot security” efforts at polling places. In 1982, the party was accused of attempting to intimidate voters trying to vote in predominantly African-American areas of New Jersey. Some wore “National Ballot Security Task Force” armbands and wore guns — the RNC did not admit wrongdoing but to settle the case, agreed to the decree. The Democrats also sought an extension of the decree, which is set to expire in December 2017, and an injunction on the party’s “ballot security” efforts.
One of the DNC’s attorneys told the court Friday that Trump “repeatedly encouraged his supporters to engage in vigilante efforts” in order to find instances of voter fraud. The RNC’s lawyers said this was nothing more than normal poll-watching and meant to intimidate no one. They also argued that the Republican nominee did not hold so large a leadership role in the party that his calls to “watch” polling locations in “certain areas” meant anything when it came to the party’s election plans.
The DNC pointed to a comment from Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway saying that her campaign was working directly with the RNC on voter fraud issues (she later retracted the statement). Trump’s VP nominee also said the campaign and the RNC were working together on “ballot integrity.”
Judge Vazquez also noted that the calls to action are so broad, and the people planning on participating so poorly trained, that it appears some “are not even aware of the law or its contours,” reported TPM’s Tierney Sneed.
Rick Hasen, a law professor and writer at the Election Law Blog, said that the judge decided that the Democrats did not offer enough evidence that Trump was an agent of the RNC, nor that they violated the consent decree barring them from ballot security measures that intimidate minority voters. Hasen did note that the decision does not mean that a good case could not be made to prove this with enough time. However, in the short timeframe available to the DNC, the judge did not find enough evidence that Trump and the RNC were working together on ballot security.
The public does know more about the GOP’s plans about ballot security, which also means, as Hasen has said, “assurances that the campaigns are taking steps to prevent voter intimidation on election day.”
On Friday, a judge in Ohio ordered the Trump campaign (and its ally Roger Stone, who runs a super PAC called “Stop the Steal”) to halt plans to intimidate voters on election day in urban areas through similar “poll watching” activities.
Last month, Buzzfeed reported that the RNC’s top lawyer warned party members not to engage in “ballot security” measures, “given the seriousness of the Consent Degree and the severe consequences of a violation.”