The Democratic National Committee filed a motion calling on a federal judge to hold the Republican National Committee in contempt for violating a long-standing consent decree barring it from intimidating voters at the polls via so-called “ballot security” measures—namely poll watchers using the excuse of looking out for voter fraud.
The motion stated that Donald Trump has himself broken the consent decree in public statements that critics have labeled “incitement.” And it asked the judge to block the RNC from coordinating with the Trump campaign.
Trump’s call for vigilante watchers is focused on polling sites in neighborhoods where people of color make up most of the residents. That tactic echoes what led to the consent decree in the first place. My colleague Mark Sumner has pointed out how potentially dangerous some of these vigilantes could be.
The decree was agreed to in 1982 after armed poll watchers—many of them off-duty law enforcement officers—showed up at New Jersey polling stations in minority neighborhoods during the gubernatorial election of 1981 wearing armbands saying “Ballot Security Task Force.” They directly challenged voters and otherwise intimidated them. The decree has since been renewed but is slated to expire next year.
In part, the Democratic court filing states:
Defendant Republican National Committee (“RNC”) has violated the Final Consent Decree.. by supporting and enabling the efforts of the Republican candidate for President, Donald J. Trump, as well as his campaign and advisors, to intimidate and discourage minority voters from voting in the 2016 Presidential Election. Trump has falsely and repeatedly told his supporters that the November 8 election will be “rigged” based upon fabricated claims of voter fraud in “certain areas” or “certain sections” of key states. Unsurprisingly, those “certain areas” are exclusively communities in which large minority voting populations reside. Notwithstanding that no evidence of such fraud actually exists, Trump has encouraged his supporters to do whatever it takes to stop it—“You’ve got to get everybody to go out and watch . . . and when [I] say ‘watch,’ you know what I’m talking about, right?”—and has been actively organizing “election observers” to monitor polling stations in “certain areas.” Trump has even encouraged his “watchers” to act like vigilante law enforcement officers.
The judge assigned to the case, John Michael Vazquez, is an Obama appointee.