GOP Told by Judge to Turn Over Any Trump Poll-Watching Deals
(Bloomberg) -- The Republican National Committee, accused last week of scheming to suppress minority turnout on Election Day, was ordered to give Democratic leaders any evidence of deals with Donald Trump’s campaign for his supporters to stand watch at polling places.
That includes any written or verbal agreements relating to voter fraud, ballot security, poll watching and poll monitoring, U.S. District Judge John Michael Vazquez in Newark, New Jersey, said in a ruling on Monday. The Republican leadership has until Wednesday to comply with the order.
Vazquez also ordered the Trump campaign to submit affidavits explaining the basis for remarks made in recent months about ballot integrity and poll-watching by Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and his running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence. The filings should include details about which precincts were being targeted and why, the judge ruled.
The judge denied the Democratic National Committee’s requests for e-mails and other electronic evidence tied to Conway’s and Pence’s comments, citing the tight timetable for such a search before the Nov. 8 election. The DNC may renew its request for such documents after the election, the judge said.
The dispute erupted after the DNC said in an Oct. 26 filing that the Republican party had violated a 1982 court-approved agreement under which the RNC pledged not to engage in "ballot security" activities or intimidate voters as they enter a polling place.
"I have made clear to the Trump campaign that the RNC cannot and will not be involved in any way with ballot security activities or election day operations," the RNC’s chief legal counsel, John Phillippe, said in an Oct. 31 filing.
Conway retracted her comment to a reporter about coordinating with the RNC, while Pence’s similar remark in early August was an inaccurate, "off the cuff" statement by Trump’s running mate who may have been still getting up to speed on the campaign operations, Phillippe said. The attorney said he has been "extremely cautious" in interpreting the 1982 agreement, even barring RNC workers from recruiting volunteers to perform "normal poll-watch functions" allowed under the agreement, according to the filing.
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Even without the RNC’s alleged coordination, the Trump campaign is hiring its own poll watchers to challenge what it says is widespread voter fraud. Neither the campaign nor the Republican state parties are barred from such activities.
“Trump has falsely and repeatedly told his supporters that the Nov. 8 election will be ‘rigged’ based upon fabricated claims of voter fraud in ‘certain areas’ or ‘certain sections’ of key states,” the DNC’s lawyers said. “Unsurprisingly, those ‘certain areas’ are exclusively communities in which large minority voting populations reside.”
The DNC on Monday filed anecdotal evidence of what it called improper behavior at polling places. The court filing describes a Trump supporter who was banned from an early voting location at a Las Vegas shopping center for “yelling at voters, accusing voters and poll workers of breaking the law, talking to voters as they stood in line, and providing them with incorrect information.”
Such alleged behavior triggered lawsuits in the past two days by the Democratic Party in at least four swing states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Nevada and Arizona. Democrats seek court orders barring Republican groups in those states from coordinating with the Trump campaign, or Trump adviser Roger Stone, to intimidate voters in minority areas by questioning and photographing them at polling places.
Stone “helped pioneer similar tactics in the 1980s before those efforts were blocked by the federal courts,” according to one of the filings.
In an e-mailed statement, Stone said the state lawsuits have no merit. Stone’s organization, Stop the Steal, is conducting neutral surveys at 7,000 key precincts to ensure the machine results match his exit-poll results, according to the statement.
“Precincts are chosen based on one-party rule and past reports of irregularities -- not racial make-up,” Stone said, blaming the misconception on the media. “We seek only to determine if the election is honestly and fairly conducted and to provide an evidentiary basis for a challenge to the election if that is not the case.”
Vazquez earlier rejected the DNC’s request for a temporary restraining order against the RNC. The judge said he would make a final ruling before the election on whether the RNC has violated court orders in the case and should be held in contempt. A court hearing is scheduled for Friday.
Hope Hicks, Trump’s campaign spokeswoman, didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment on the ruling. Rajiv Parikh, a lawyer for the DNC, declined to comment through his law firm’s spokesman, Warren Cooper.
The case is Democratic National Committee v. Republican National Committee, 81-cv-03876, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).