Democratic Party Sues GOP Over Alleged Voter Intimidation

Nov 3, 2016
Originally published on November 3, 2016 7:14 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

There's always a lot of last minute legal activity before an election. Right now it's Democrats suing Republicans. The Democratic Party says the GOP is conspiring with the Trump campaign to intimidate and discourage minority voters, which they say would violate a 1982 consent decree that prohibits the Republican National Committee from challenging voters at the polls. We're joined in the studio now by NPR's Pam Fessler, who covers voting issues. Hey, Pam.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Give us the background on how this case came to be, what it's all about.

FESSLER: Right. This is part of a long-running feud between Democrats and Republicans. The consent decree was the result of a case back in the 1980s when Republicans were accused of intimidating minority voters in New Jersey by having off-duty law enforcement officers outside polls wearing armbands that said they were part of a ballot security task force and challenging voters.

Democrats now say that the RNC is violating that consent decree by working with the Trump campaign and state Republicans on pole monitoring efforts. They note that Trump's called on his supporters to go out and watch the polls for cheating in, quote, "certain areas" - and that's been interpreted widely to mean inner-city neighborhoods - and that in August, vice presidential nominee Mike Pence said the Trump campaign and the RNC were working, quote, "very, very closely with states to prevent voter fraud."

Democrats have filed for other suits this week, making similar charges of intimidation against the Trump campaign and state Republican parties.

SHAPIRO: And what is the response from the GOP?

FESSLER: Well, the Republicans deny the allegations. The RNC says it's not engaged in these poll monitoring activities. And if anything, they have repeatedly warned its - their staff and members not to do anything that even appears to violate the consent decree.

The RNC says it's not responsible for any poll monitoring activities undertaken by the Trump campaign or state Republican parties which aren't covered by this consent decree. And in court papers filed last night, the RNC said that Pence now says he was mistaken when he made those comments about the RNC and Trump campaign working very, very closely on watching the polls for fraud.

SHAPIRO: Is this likely to be resolved before Election Day on Tuesday?

FESSLER: Unclear. The big cases - the consent decree case - that - there's a hearing on that in federal court tomorrow in New Jersey. The consent decree is supposed to expire next year. Republicans want that very much to happen, but Democrats want it to be extended for another eight years.

In the other case - cases, the Democrats want the courts to stop Republicans from working with Trump on anything that might intimidate minority voters, but it's unclear what impact that might have.

SHAPIRO: Do you think it will have any kind of unofficial impact if these cases are ongoing even if there's no ruling by Election Day?

FESSLER: Well, I do think that this has put the Republicans on the defensive in terms of how aggressive they can be watching the polls on Election Day and monitoring them. And it might tamp down some of this rhetoric about the - there being widespread voter fraud, which there's little evidence.

But it's unclear what impact it might have on some of these outside, mostly right wing organizations that are independent who have said that they're going to go watch the polls on Election Day, especially in minority areas, even videotaping voters. And that's something that election officials are quite worried about.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Pam Fessler, who covers voting issues - I know you'll be on high alert until Election Day. Thanks for your help.

FESSLER: You're welcome.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And while we're on the topic of voting - a correction. We said yesterday that early voting in North Carolina continues through this coming weekend. The last day of early voting in North Carolina is on Saturday. It does not extend to Sunday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.