In a major victory Tuesday for the Republican National Committee, a federal judge in New Jersey lifted a consent decree dating back from the 1980s that barred the RNC from conducting so-called “ballot security” measures — i.e. poll watching and other Election Day activities ostensibly aimed at monitoring for voter fraud.
While other state Republican parties could engage in poll monitoring, the RNC was extremely eager to get out from under the consent decree, which was set to expire last year. In the lead-up to the 2016 campaign, it issued memos urging RNC staff to avoid activities that could be considered poll watching, particularly after President Trump amped up his unsubstantiated claims that there would be mass voter fraud in the elections. The RNC and DNC engaged in a multi-front legal battle over whether Trump and his allies’ rhetoric amounted to a violation of the decree.
Election experts and civil rights advocates have expressed concern that, without the decree, the RNC would mount a vote suppression campaign under the guise of ballot security.
The 1982 consent decree was the result of a decades-old lawsuit the Democratic National Committee brought against the national GOP, as well as New Jersey’s Republican Party. They alleged that in a 1981 New Jersey election Republicans employed off duty cops to monitor polling places in minority neighborhoods and sent mailers to minority voters, that, if unreturned, were used to create lists of voters to challenge at polling places.
The decree had been extended multiple times over the years after Democrats surfaced evidence that the RNC had violated it. However, Democrats’ last ditch effort last year to extend it — citing Trump’s calls for vigilante poll watching, as well as then-RNC strategist Sean Spicer’s presence in an area of Trump Tower where campaign poll watching activities were being monitored — were unsuccessful.
The decree was set to expire on Dec. 1, 2017, and on Monday U.S. District Judge John Michael Vazquez said the DNC had failed to provide evidence of a violation that would prompt him to extend it. He also denied a DNC request for more discovery on whether Spicer violated the decree in his presence near the Trump campaign’s poll watching hub at Trump Tower on election night.
In a statement, RNC spokesperson Blair Ellis said the RNC was “gratified” with the judge’s order and that the judge “rejected the DNC’s baseless claims.”
“Today’s ruling will allow the RNC to work more closely with state parties and campaigns to do what we do best, ensure that more people vote through our unmatched field program,” she said.
Read the order below: