- Associated Press - Friday, November 4, 2016

CLEVELAND (AP) - A federal judge on Friday issued a temporary restraining order against Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign and a Republican political operative aimed at preventing Trump supporters from harassing or intimidating Ohio voters during Tuesday’s election.

U.S. District Judge James Gwin ruled in a lawsuit filed by the Ohio Democratic Party that anyone who engages in intimidation or harassment inside or near polling places would face contempt of court charges. He dismissed the Ohio Republican Party as a defendant.

Attorneys for both sides declined to comment after a hearing. The Trump campaign appealed the decision.

Democratic Party organizations in Nevada, Arizona and Pennsylvania filed similar lawsuits beginning late last month. The lawsuits cite the Voting Rights Act from the 1960s and the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, laws aimed at preventing intimidation of minority voters, as the legal basis for why court orders are needed.

The Ohio Democratic Party claimed in its lawsuit that the Ohio GOP, the Trump campaign, operative Roger Stone and the Stone political action committee Stop the Steal were conspiring to intimidate minority voters, who tend to support Democrats over Republicans, in urban areas to discourage them from casting ballots. The lawsuit cited comments made by Trump and his surrogates that his supporters should gather at polling places to stop Democrats from stealing the election for Hillary Clinton through voter fraud.

Ohio Democratic Party chairman David Pepper praised the ruling.

“With this decision, Ohioans can feel confident that they will be able to make their voices heard in this election,” Pepper said in statement.

Ohio law forbids people from advocating on behalf of a candidate or issue inside or within 100 feet of a polling place.

The judge said in his ruling from the bench that contempt charges would be applied to anyone who tried to stop someone from entering or leaving a polling location.

Later Friday, Gwin issued a written order blocking activities from both campaigns that include unauthorized poll watching, the admonishing or questioning of voters, hindering or delaying a voter from entering or leaving a polling place, and taking photos or recording voters inside or near polling places.

Ohio Democratic Party attorney Dawn Smalls argued in court “racially charged language” used by Trump and his surrogates was a call to action for his supporters to be “watchdogs at the polls.” She said Trump’s efforts to get people to sign up as “election observers” were worrisome and were “racially charged calls for actions by people who will act like vigilantes.”

Trump campaign attorney Chad Readler argued comments Trump has made during the campaign about the election being “rigged” and his concerns about voter fraud are protected political speech. There has been no evidence Trump supporters have tried to intimidate anyone during Ohio’s early voting period, during which 400,000 people have cast ballots.

No attorneys filed court briefs or appeared Friday on behalf of Stone or Stop the Steal. Stone had said by email the lawsuit was meritless and his organization wasn’t coordinating with the Trump campaign or any official GOP organizations. He said his organization is partnering with a group called Vote Protectors to conduct exit polls and plans to compare those responses with voting machine results in 7,000 precincts nationwide.

Both major political parties have long used party members as official election observers. The Ohio Republican Party said during the hearing about 1,000 people will serve as election observers for the party on Tuesday.


Associated Press writer Ann Sanner in Columbus contributed to this report.

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