A federal judge apparently is on the verge of lifting a decades-old order that blocked the Republican National Committee from a variety of “poll watching” activities that worked to intimidate legally-qualified voters.
Politico reports this morning that U.S. District Judge John Vazquez is likely to allow the order, originally signed in 1982 and extended repeatedly since then, to expire when its current term ends on Friday. The judge and lawyers involved in the case are scheduled to confer by phone today.
The order grew out of a Republican “ballot security” program that included a practice known as “voter caging.” Targeting minority – and mostly Democratic neighborhoods – party operatives would mail out postcards to the addresses of registered voters and compile a list of those returned as undeliverable. Those voters would then be challenged if they appeared at the polls on Election Day.
Amid evidence that caging was blocking legally-qualified voters from casting ballots, the Republican National Committee, the New Jersey GOP, and the Democratic National Committee agreed to accept court supervision of Republican ballot security efforts. The original complaints of caging came from New Jersey.
“The consent decree was issued to halt repeated misconduct, intimidation and discrimination,” Wendy Weiser, director of the democracy program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, told Politico. “Now the really toxic political atmosphere raises the risk of misconduct of having private partisans try to police the polling place. … It’s an intrinsically risky and problematic thing.”
Republicans have tried several times to get the order lifted, most recently during the 2016 presidential campaign; lower courts rejected the party’s plea and Supreme Court declined to intervene.
The order’s likely demise comes against a backdrop of unsupported charges from President Trump and other prominent Republicans that last year’s voting was marred by widespread fraud. Trump claims that up to 5 million people voted illegally in the presidential race, depriving him of a popular vote majority.
The president has created an “election integrity” commission, headed by Vice President Mike Pence, to look for evidence of fraud. Its vice chairman, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, is an outspoken proponent of legislation that would make voting more difficult; his efforts to find and prosecute illegal voters in his state have produced only miniscule results, however.
The commission has not met for several months; its dysfunction is so pervasive that one of its Democratic members has filed suit to gain access to its official records and memoranda. It also is the target of complaints, including one filed by Common Cause, growing out of a Kobach-authored request that states supply the commission with a variety of personal information found in voter registration records.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Voting and Elections