Dems Launch Multi-State Legal Effort Against ‘Vigilante Voter Intimidation’

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Democrats launched a multi-state legal effort against what they described as a “vigilante voter intimidation” campaign led by Donald Trump, his associates, and the Republican Party. The Democratic parties in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Arizona and Nevada filed lawsuits Sunday against their GOP state counterparts, the Trump campaign, Trump ally Roger Stone and his affiliated super PAC Stop the Seal, alleging that the groups have violated the Voting Rights Act and the Ku Klux Klan Act, which both include provisions addressing voter intimidation.

“Trump’s calls for unlawful intimidation have grown louder and louder, and the conspiracy to harass and threaten voters on Election Day has already resulted in numerous acts that threaten to interfere with the voting rights of registered
Nevada voters,” the Nevada Democrats’ lawsuit said.

The lawsuits point to statements Trump and his surrogates have made on the trail encouraging his supporters to “watch and study” polling places, including explicit calls to monitor urban communities like Philadelphia.

Those comments, the lawsuit said, are “consistently directed at Democratic-leaning communities with large minority populations in states like Nevada, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.” It also cited news reports and public statements that showed Trump’s supporters’ planning to heed his call.

The complaints single out longtime GOP political operative Stone — a former adviser in the Trump campaign — who the lawsuit says has “a history of engaging in voter intimidation, racist and misogynist hate speech, and incitement to violence.” The lawsuits allege that, through his groups, Stop the Seal and Vote Protectors, Stone has attempted to recruit amateur poll watchers to take pseudo-exit polls in minority communities while wearing official-looking badges printed from his website that say “Vote Protectors. Stone has also used social media to blare inaccurate concerns about a “rigged election,” the lawsuits said.

“Through these and other messages, Stone has sought to encourage Trump supporters to engage in unlawful voter intimidation,” the Democrats’ lawsuits said.

Finally, the lawsuits accuse the individual state Republican parties, along with the Republican National Committee, of cooperating and coordinating with the Trump campaign in its “‘ballot security’ initiatives.” The Democratic National Committee sued the RNC separately last week, citing its work with the Trump campaign, for allegedly violating a longstanding consent decree limiting its Election Day poll monitoring activities.

“The Trump Campaign has decided largely to refrain from setting up its own offices and staff in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, as past Republican Party nominees have done,” the lawsuit filed by the Pennsylvania Democrats noted. “Instead, as has been widely reported, the Trump Campaign is relying predominantly on the RNC and Republican state party entities (such as the [Republican Party of Pennsylvania]) to manage get-out-the-vote operations in contested states such as Pennsylvania.”

The Democratic lawsuits filed Sunday highlight the comments made by some state officials that allegedly show that state parties are taking over “ballot security” initiatives.

In Arizona, according to the Dems’ lawsuit, the state GOP chair Robert Graham encouraged Republican poll watchers “to follow voters out into the parking lot, ask them questions, take their pictures and photograph their vehicles and license plate,” given they stay outside the 75-foot perimeter around polling places, as required by state law. Pennsylvania’s GOP chair Robert Gleason has said he was “glad to hear” Trump’s call for poll watchers to the state, and the state party even filed a lawsuit to allow poll watchers to observe election sites outside of their precincts, as is currently banned by state law.

“The express purposes of the lawsuit are to increase the number of
poll watchers that the [Republican Party of Pennsylvania] can deploy, and to permit large numbers of Trump’s supporters from anywhere in the State to descend upon its urban centers, including Philadelphia—precisely as Trump directed in several rallies in Pennsylvania,” the Pennsylvania Democrats said in their complaint.

Nevada Republicans are using a third-party organization called Nevada Grassroots to recruit elections monitors in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, according to the Nevada Democrats’ complaint. The lawsuit also highlighted an instance of alleged voter intimidation in Clark County already, where a Trump supporter asked voters at an early voting site who they were voting for, and then harassed those who did not say Trump, according to the complaint.

State law varies about what kind of elections monitoring is allowed at poll places. In Ohio, for instance, candidates and parties can appoint a certain number of poll observers, but they must be registered 11 days before the election and follow strict guidelines.

“Trump Campaign supporters who heed the call to travel from outside their
counties of residence to Cleveland, Columbus, and other Democratic-leaning areas to ‘watch other communities’ are doing so in violation of Ohio election law’s detailed scheme to ensure the integrity of the state’s elections,” the Ohio Democrats’ lawsuit said.

Read the complaints below:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.
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