Oops! Dems Seize On GOP Lawyer’s Apparent Slip On Poll Watcher Call

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In legal action claiming that the Republican National Committee was illegally engaged in ballot security activities, Democrats are pointing to a conference call in which a Republican operative mentioned that certain GOP ballot security initiatives in Virginia were being handled by the RNC, before quickly walking the comment back.

“I’ve got the folks RNC has hired on — um, to help them with…,” Virginia Republican Party General Counsel Chris Marston allegedly said, according to a transcript of a poll worker training conference call filed in court by the Democratic National Committee Thursday.

“I’m sorry. The RNC is not doing anything related to Election Day operations,” Marston went on to say with laughter, according to the transcript. The DNC, nonetheless, argued that the comment indicated “the RNC’s involvement and obfuscation.”

The transcript was filed in a case regarding a consent decree the RNC agreed to in the early 1980s that prohibited it from participating in certain “ballot security” initiatives. Democrats are claiming that the RNC has violated the decree, which is set to expire in December 2017, and that it should be extended for another eight years. Republicans have maintained that have followed the consent decree, which still allows for Republican state parties (with the exception of New Jersey’s) to engage in the sort of poll watching activities the RNC is barred from doing.

According to court documents filed Thursday, a Democratic operative in Virginia, Frank Anderson, signed up on the Donald Trump campaign’s website to volunteer as an elections observer. Sometime after, he was contacted by email about signing up to volunteer, and was invited to attend online poll watching training, according to his affidavit. Anderson had his intern sign him up for a training session and he received a number of poll watcher information materials, as well as an invitation to a Nov. 1 training conference call, according to the documents. He said he recorded the call, and the transcript of the call was included in the DNC brief arguing that the court should find the RNC in violation of the decree.

The Democrats argued that the slip — coupled with comments made by Trump’s running mate Mike Pence and campaign manager Kellyanne Conway — suggest the RNC is collaborating with Trump’s ballot integrity initiatives, in violation of the decree.

Both Conway and Pence have said they were mistaken in their description of RNC involvement. The RNC has held that it has followed the decree and not participated in any ballot security activities.

Update: The RNC on Friday filed an affidavit provided by Marston explaining the call, and assured the court that the RNC had no involvement in the local Virginia GOP committee’s poll watching training operation.

He also said it was “outrageous that the DNC apparently condones Frank Anderson’s misleading participation in this online program,” referencing the methods Anderson used to sign up for the Republican poll watcher training.

The affidavit was filed ahead of a hearing scheduled Friday morning on the case.

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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