Republicans were handed a series of legal victories over the weekend in states where Democrats had sued over claims that Donald Trump’s campaign and the Republican Party had engaged in “vigilante voter intimidation” efforts.
In Ohio, a federal appeals court on Sunday stayed a ruling by a lower court that would have banned Mr. Trump’s campaign, his former adviser Roger Stone and Mr. Stone’s political action committee from “conspiring to intimidate, threaten, harass or coerce voters on Election Day.”
The temporary restraining order, issued Friday by U.S. District Court Judge James Gwin, would have prohibited a variety of activities around polling places, including photographing prospective voters and their vehicles or interrogating or harassing voters inside polling places.
In the order issued Sunday, a three-judge panel from the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the Ohio Democratic Party “did not demonstrate before the district court a likelihood of success on the merits, and that all of the requisite factors weigh in favor of granting the stay.”
Democrats filed similar lawsuits in at least four other states, claiming Republicans and the Trump campaign were encouraging supporters to intimidate and harass minority voters on Election Day. Lawsuits claim statements by members of the Trump campaign, as well as the presidential candidate himself, violated the Voting Rights Act and the Ku Klux Klan Act.
“In the months leading up to the 2016 election, Trump has made an escalating series of statements, often racially tinged, suggesting that his supporters should go to particular precincts on Election Day and intimidate voters — and that if they do not do so, he will lose the election because certain people, in certain precincts, will vote ‘15 times’ for Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton,” states the Ohio lawsuit.
Republicans have had success in challenging the claims in Arizona, Nevada and New Jersey. A hearing is scheduled for Monday in a case in Pennsylvania.
In Arizona, U.S. District Judge John J. Tuchi found that the Arizona Democratic Party had not provided enough evidence to support the issuance of a temporary restraining order against the Trump campaign and Mr. Stone, noting that several of the campaign’s public statements that were cited as evidence of intimidation were taken out of context.
“One can seriously question the wisdom of stirring up supporters about a controversial issue, encouraging them to go to a precinct that is not their own, and telling them to look for ‘voter fraud’ without defining what it is, leaving individuals to their own devices to figure out how to go about that task,” Judge Tuchi wrote in an order issued Friday. “But whatever the shortcomings of the Trump campaign’s statements on this issue might be, simply arguing there is voter fraud and urging people to watch out for it is not, without more, sufficient to justify the extraordinary relief that an injunction constitutes.”
While early voting was underway in the state, the judge found that Democrats failed to provide evidence of “any attempts at voter intimidation, or any voter reporting they felt intimidated, during this cycle.”
In a separate case, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt another blow to Arizona Democrats on Saturday. Ruling on an emergency appeal, the high court reinstated a state law that makes it a felony for individuals who are not relatives or caregivers to collect and turn in voters’ early mail-in ballots.
The Arizona Legislature enacted the law banning “ballot harvesting” this year over concern that partisan collectors would open ballots and toss out the ones that do not align with their political beliefs.
Arizona Democratic Party Chairwoman Alexis Tameron expressed disappointment with the decision but said the party would employ other voter outreach methods.
“Our fight has always been about having more people participate and making the voting process easier for Arizonans,” she said in a statement.
In New Jersey, a federal judge on Saturday declined to sanction the Republican National Committee before Election Day over Democratic National Committee claims of violations of a consent decree adopted in 1982 to protect minority voters from intimidation efforts.
The consent decree stems from Democratic accusations that the RNC helped intimidate black voters during New Jersey’s 1981 gubernatorial election by having off-duty law enforcement officers stand at polling places in urban areas wearing “National Ballot Security Task Force” armbands. As part of the decree, the RNC agreed to refrain from conducting similar ballot security initiatives.
Democrats said Republicans violated the decree this year by collaborating with the Trump campaign to organize poll monitoring activities that were aimed at suppressing voter turnout in minority communities. Democrats cited statements by members of the Trump campaign and the presidential nominee’s own calls for supporters to “watch other communities because we don’t want this election stolen from us.”
Magistrate Judge John Michael Vazquez, of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, wrote in an order issued Saturday that the DNC had not provided evidence that Republicans coordinated with the Trump campaign on activities that would be considered voter intimidation.
“At best, the DNC shows a possibility, not a probability, that the poll observers, activities were related to voter fraud,” Judge Vazquez wrote.
In Nevada, U.S. District Judge Richard Boulware on Friday ruled that the state Republican Party and the Donald Trump campaign were not training people to intimidate voters. Before deciding whether the same could be said for Mr. Stone’s Stop the Steal group, the judge opted to hold a Monday hearing in the case.
• Andrea Noble can be reached at email@example.com.
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