Democrats Lose Bid for Vote-Suppression Injunction in New Jersey

Clinton, Trump Prep Final Presidential Campaign Push
  • Court fight is latest battle over intimidation claims
  • DNC claims RNC is watching polls in violation of 1982 order

There’s no evidence the Republican National Committee is engaged in efforts to intimidate voters in violation of a 1982 court order barring such activities, a federal judge ruled in rejecting a request by Democrats for sanctions.

U.S. District Judge John Michael Vazquez in Newark, New Jersey, on Saturday denied the DNC request, ruling that the RNC hadn’t violated the order. The RNC has long denied that its ballot-security measures intimidate voters or suppress the vote.

The Democrats filed their challenge Oct. 26 in a decades-old case accusing Republicans of planning ballot-security measures in violation of the agreement banning the party from such activities. The initial case, filed in 1981, accused Republicans of trying to intimidate minority voters in a New Jersey election. The settlement, called a consent decree, bars the RNC from organizing any poll-watching measures until 2017.

Democrats renewed arguments that Republicans intimidated minority voters under the guise of watching polling places for evidence of voter fraud. A violation of the 1982 agreement could result in an eight-year extension for the RNC.

The accord doesn’t bar presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign or state Republican parties from poll-watching measures. The RNC argued that Democrats were conflating state-level voter fraud planning with national coordination and that agreement allowed some kinds of poll watching, including ensuring people are in the correct precinct and machines are working properly.

Vazquez on Oct. 31 ordered the RNC to turn over evidence of any deals the party struck with Trump’s campaign for his supporters to stand watch at polling places.

Pence, Conway

Trump’s running mate Mike Pence and his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway were at the center of the DNC’s claims. Both have said in public statements over the past two months that Trump was working closely with the RNC to prevent voter fraud by Hillary Clinton voters, though no evidence exists that such fraud is widespread or coordinated. 

Trump and Republican officials have repeatedly said that Democrats would engage in illegal voting activities, such as busing people in from other cities to vote in place of dead people or casting multiple ballots.

On Friday, lawyers for the RNC argued at a hearing that Pence and Conway admitted later that they misspoke.

“It was big of Mr. Pence and Ms. Conway to say they were mistaken,” RNC lawyer Bobby Burchfield said at the hearing.

Vazquez appeared dubious about the alleged errors.

“How many times can people make these mistakes –- oops -- before you think maybe it’s not a mistake?” Vazquez asked during the hearing. There’s “healthy level of mistrust between the RNC and the DNC,” he said.

The DNC, which isn’t barred from organizing poll watchers, said Democratic volunteers gave evidence in court papers of what they said was coordinated RNC activity. Some of the Republican poll watchers appeared to have detailed training material from the RNC and initially claimed they were independent poll watchers before admitting they were Republican, according to the filings.

“I am disappointed in the court’s decision denying immediate relief on the eve of this election, but find comfort in knowing that meaningful discovery may be pursued afterward to establish that this 30 plus year consent order should remain viable in the fight against RNC inspired voter suppression efforts,” said Angelo Genova of Genova Burns, a lawyer representing the Democrats, said in an e-mail after the ruling. Genova argued the original case that led to the 1982 consent decree.

As evidence that the party takes violations of the 1982 agreement seriously, lawyers for the RNC filed a copy of a memo the party issued to members in March warning them of the eight-year extension if they engage in any prohibited poll-watching activities.

The case is Democratic National Committee v. Republican National Committee, 81-cv-03876, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).

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