Amid Trump’s Election Fraud Claims, Democrats Take Aim at GOP Voter Suppression—Again

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Voting Shmoting

Amid Trump’s Election Fraud Claims, Democrats Take Aim at GOP Voter Suppression—Again

Imani Gandy

It's not the first time that Democrats have gone to court alleging that the Republican National Committee has made a practice of intimidating voters. In 1982, Democratic pressure resulted in Republicans agreeing to stop "ballot security" measures used to deter qualified people from voting.

The Trump campaign’s ongoing efforts to scare voters into believing that the election will be rigged due to rampant voter fraud may have landed them—and the Republican National Committee (RNC)—on the wrong side of a 34-year-old settlement and order related to prior conservative voter suppression efforts.

Last week, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) filed a motion in federal court in New Jersey requesting that a consent decree, which prohibits the sort of “ballot security” efforts that GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and campaign allies like Roger Stone intend to deploy in order to ensure that “certain areas” or “certain sections” of key states don’t rig the election for Hillary Clinton, be enforced against the RNC.

To put it bluntly, Trump has been whipping his supporters into a frenzy over unsubstantiated claims that voters of color are going to steal the election from him, and the DNC wants the court to do something about it. Namely, decide whether the RNC should be sanctioned and held in contempt for violating that federal court order, and blocked from “engaging in vote intimidation and other forms of ‘ballot security’ measures in concert with the Trump campaign and its associates.”  

The DNC also wants the court to extend the consent decree—the terms of which are slated to expire on December 1, 2017—for eight more years.

As I wrote in August, that agreement, which has been in place since 1982, stems from a lawsuit that the DNC filed against the RNC in 1981, charging that the RNC had attempted to interrogate and intimidate voters of color in a New Jersey gubernatorial race.

In order to settle that lawsuit, the RNC entered into a consent decree designed to prohibit the RNC from organizing or directing efforts to harass and intimidate voters.

Specifically, the consent decree prohibits the RNC or anyone working on behalf of 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 consent decree also prohibits the RNC or anyone working on its behalf from directing or permitting their employees to “interrogate prospective voters as to their qualifications to vote prior to their entry to a polling place.”

In order to protect against (nonexistent) voter fraud, the RNC had engaged in “voter caging.” Voter caging is when RNC employees mail sample ballots to individuals in precincts with a large population of people of color, and then when those mailings are returned as “undeliverable” those voters are included on a list of voters that poll monitors should challenge on Election Day.

In addition, the RNC had recruited off-duty sheriffs and police officers to intimidate voters by standing at polling places in precincts where the majority of individuals were people of color during voting, with “National Ballot Security Task Force” armbands.

If you think the 1982 agreement would have been enough to send a message to the RNC that it should stop attempting to disenfranchise voters of color, you’d be wrong.

In 1987, the DNC caught the RNC engaging in a voter caging program again, this time in Louisiana. They weren’t even coy about it: The RNC’s Midwest political director at the time wrote a memorandum that emerged during the fact-finding process to the RNC’s Southern political director, which stated “this program will eliminate at least 60,000-80,000 folks from the rolls …. If it’s a close race .… which I’m assuming it is, this could keep the black vote down considerably.”

In fact, the DNC would successfully challenge the RNC’s ballot security efforts twice more: In 1990, the New Jersey federal court found that the RNC had conspired with the North Carolina Republican Party to intimidate voters by sending 150,000 postcards to residents of predominantly Black precincts that warned voters it is “a federal crime … to knowingly give false information about your name, residence, or period of residence to an election official.”  In 2004, the court barred the RNC from using a voter challenge list it had developed with Ohio Republicans for ballot security efforts.

The consent decree has been renegotiated over the years.

After the RNC’s voter shenanigans in Louisiana in 1987, the consent decree was amended to require that the RNC submit any plans for ballot security efforts to both the federal court in New Jersey and the DNC in advance, so that the court could verify that the ballot security plan wasn’t simply a voter intimidation scheme.

That’s the provision that could help Democrats over the next several days to determine what ballot security plans the RNC has in place and whether the consent decree forbids them.

Certainly, reports around the country suggest there are Republican-led efforts to suppress the vote.

For example, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP filed a lawsuit Monday alleging that Republicans in the state are engaged in voter caging practices in violation of the National Voter Registration Act, which limits North Carolina’s authority to cancel voter registration on the basis of a voter’s change in residence. “[A]t least three North Carolina counties, and possibly others, have cancelled thousands of voter registrations for changes in residence on the basis of single mailings returned as undeliverable,” the complaint alleges.

In Texas, the Texas Civil Rights Project has fielded complaints that poll workers are informing voters that they need a voter ID in order to vote, according to Houston Public Media. This despite an agreement between Texas and the Department of Justice that voters who are unable to obtain a voter ID under the state’s voter ID law may vote if they provide alternative forms of identification such as a paycheck or utility bill. Earlier this year, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Veasey v. Abbott struck down Texas’ voter ID law, saying that it disproportionately burdened Black and Latino voters in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965.

If there are improper ballot security measures being deployed in Texas, North Carolina, and any other states, Democrats will be able to start sussing that out. Judge John Michael Vazquez has ordered discovery to be provided by 5 p.m. Wednesday regarding collaboration between the Trump campaign and the RNC regarding voter fraud, ballot integrity, or ballot security efforts by the RNC or anyone acting on the RNC’s behalf. A hearing will be held in New Jersey on Friday morning.

In the papers the DNC filed with the court, the DNC pointed out that Mike Pence, at a rally in Denver on August 3, 2016, “admitted that the RNC was directly coordinating with the Trump campaign on ‘ballot integrity’ initiatives, stating that ‘the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee are working very very closely with state governments and secretaries of states all over the country to ensure ballot integrity.’”

The DNC also pointed out that on May 25, the RNC “created a joint fundraising committee with the Trump campaign specifically to fund the Trump campaign and its operations, and to elect Republicans up and down the ballot.”

And long after Donald Trump began complaining that the election would be rigged and called upon his supporters to volunteer to act as poll watchers and monitors in “certain sections,”—that is, Black sections—of states like Pennsylvania, which he seems to believe will be Ground Zero for voter fraud, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus discussed the coordination between the RNC and the Trump campaign. “I want to make it very clear that the RNC is in full coordination with the Trump campaign and we have a great relationship with them,” Priebus said in October, according to the DNC’s complaint.

“We remain very much involved and together in all levels in making these decisions of how best to run the operation across the country.”

In addition, Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, confirmed to Washington Post reporter Robert Costa during MSNBC’s post-debate coverage on October 19 that the campaign and the RNC are coordinating on this. Specifically, Conway said that the Trump campaign is “actively working with the national committee, the official party, and campaign lawyers to monitor precincts around the country.”

And just days before the DNC filed the lawsuit, the Trump campaign distributed talking points to Republican Party surrogates directing them to “make points on rigged system,” and urging them to claim there has ben “an increase in unlawful voting by illegal immigrants,” according to the complaint.