The RNC is now warning Republicans not to engage in “ballot security” activities including poll watching. They are worried about violating a decades-old consent decree mandated by the courts.
In 1981 Democrats filed a lawsuit against the Republicans over a New Jersey gubernatorial election. The Repubs were accused of using off-duty cops to intimidate minority voters. And they used a shady mailer campaign to target African Americans and Hispanics.
According to the lawsuit the GOP sent out mailers to minority voters. They then made a list of every voter who did not return the mailer. The Republican poll watchers used that list to challenge those voters even though they appeared on the voter rolls. The goal was to suppress the minority vote that traditionally votes Democratic.
In 1982 the Repubs settled the lawsuit, agreeing to “refrain from undertaking any ballot security activities … directed toward districts that have a substantial proportion of racial or ethnic minority populations.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, John Ryder, an RNC lawyer, sent out a letter on Wednesday regarding that court decree to all of its members. Ryder said that he wanted to “remind you of the restrictions placed on the RNC by the consent decree.”
The Journal reports,
“Mr. Ryder said the settlement prevented the members acting in their capacity as national party officials from poll watching, recruiting or training poll watchers, making contact with voters at the polls, and a wide variety of other Election Day activities.”
Ryder warned the RNC members,
“You are encouraged not to engage in ‘ballot security’ activities even in your personal, state party or campaign capacity. If you elect to do so, please be aware that the RNC in no way sanctions your activity.”
“I ask your full cooperation in making sure that [the decree] is not extended.”
What makes this a very sticky situation is that the Republican presidential nominee is now telling his supporters to go poll watch and intimidate voters, specifically in minority and poor communities.
“The reminder from the RNC could complicate Republican candidate Donald Trump’s efforts to recruit election observers to monitor polling places for intimidation. Though an RNC official said the decree doesn’t apply to campaigns or state parties, no committee resources can be used on those efforts.”
The consent decree is in effect until 2017. But if the Repubs violate the decree it could be extended to 2025.
*UPDATE: Wednesday the Democrats filed papers with the courts because the Repubs have violated the decree. They’ve asked the court to step in and stop the behavior Trump is encouraging and they asked the court to extend the consent decree. The courts should rule on this quickly….and could quite possibly fast track this to the SCOTUS.