Citing Donald Trump’s warning that his voters need to watch polling places to prevent a rigged election, the Democratic National Committee is asking a federal court to enforce a decades-old order barring their Republican counterparts from engaging in voter intimidation.
The suit against the Republican National Committee was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in New Jersey. It seeks to enforce a consent agreement between the parties originally reached after the 1981 New Jersey gubernatorial race in which armed off-duty police and sheriff’s officers wearing “Ballot Security Task Force” arm bands positioned themselves outside polling places in predominantly minority areas.
“Trump has falsely and repeatedly told his supporters that the Nov. 8 election will be ‘rigged’ based upon fabricated claims of voter fraud in ‘certain areas’ or ‘certain sections’ of key states,” the suit says. “Unsurprisingly, those ‘certain areas’ are exclusively communities in which large minority voting populations reside.”
The suit says that no evidence of fraud exists, but that Trump encouraged supporters to take steps to stop it.
“You’ve got to get everybody to go out and watch … and when [I] say ‘watch,’ you know what I’m talking about, right?” the suit quotes Trump as saying.
"The filing is completely meritless," said RNC spokeswoman Lindsay Walters. "Just as in all prior elections in which the consent decree was in effect, the RNC strictly abides by the consent decree and does not take part directly or indirectly in any efforts to prevent or remedy vote fraud. Nor do we coordinate with the Trump campaign or any other campaign or party organization in any efforts they may make in this area. The RNC remains focused on getting out the vote.”
In making its case, the lawsuit references a Sept. 30 rally in Michigan where Trump told supporters that on Election Day after voting they should “go pick some other place and go sit there with your friends and make sure it’s on the up and up” as evidence that the Republican nominee was urging people to potentially intimidate voters. It also notes that 10 days after that rally, Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel announced a “massive statewide anti-voter fraud effort” to keep Hillary Clinton from “stealing” the election.
The suit also cites an example from Ohio, another crucial swing state, in which the Trump campaign and the GOP brought assets and personnel together to focus on ballot security.
“For example, on Oct. 24, the communications director for the Ohio Republican Party reported that Trump campaign staffers ‘moved into Ohio GOP headquarters last week to help recruit and certify hundreds of Republican observers,’ and that the chair of the Ohio Republican Party ‘met with Attorneys for Trump, who will be mobilized for Election Day,’” the suit says.
The existing consent decree prohibits the RNC from “undertaking any ballot security activities” where “a purpose or significant effect of such activities is to deter qualified voters from voting,” the suit says.
The decree applies to the national parties and their agents, and the suit seeks to tie the RNC to Trump by citing, among other things, a quote from campaign manager Kellyanne Conway. She told a reporter after a debate that the campaign was working to combat purported voter fraud by “actively working with the national committee, the official party and campaign lawyers to monitor precincts around the country,” the suit says.
The decree was modified in 1987, when the two parties agreed to a change after a lawsuit over RNC activities in Louisiana. In 2009, the RNC tried unsuccessfully to have the decree rescinded.
The suit asks the court to find the RNC in contempt of the decree and impose sanctions, and asks for expedited treatment. No hearing has been set.
Contributing: Todd Spangler, Detroit Free Press