Donald Trump and his campaign surrogates have spent the past several weeks warning about widespread voter fraud and urging Trump supporters to personally intervene if they witness suspicious behavior at the polls. These exhortations are troubling because they may be illegal: Unlike the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee is bound by a 1982 consent decree requiring federal oversight of any “ballot security” programs. (The decree was entered after the RNC sent armed guards to the polls in 1981 to intimidate minority voters. It doesn’t apply to the Republican Party’s presidential candidates.) If the RNC is at all involved in the kind of “ballot security” efforts that the Trump campaign has publicly described, it will be held in contempt. Now a federal judge is ordering the committee to produce information about any agreements it may have made with the Trump campaign regarding “election observers.”
The RNC’s trouble ties back to statements made by both vice presidential candidate Mike Pence and Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway suggesting that the campaign was working with the RNC to prevent voter fraud. Although the RNC insists that it “does not take part directly or indirectly in any efforts to prevent or remedy vote fraud,” the Democratic National Committee argues that “Trump has enjoyed the direct and tacit support of the RNC in its ‘ballot security’ endeavors.” If the DNC is correct, the RNC won’t only be held in contempt; it will likely see the current consent decree—which is set to expire in 2017—extended by several years.
Soon the DNC will learn whether its hunch is correct. In an order handed down on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge John Michael Vazquez has given the RNC one day to produce:
- All agreements “in any form”—written and oral—between the RNC and the Trump campaign regarding “voter fraud, ballot security, ballot integrity, poll watching, or poll monitoring.”
- Details behind Pence’s statement that the Trump campaign was working with state governments and secretaries of state to ensure “ballot integrity.”
- Affidavits “setting forth in detail” the RNC’s “efforts with the Trump Campaign to monitor precincts around the country as indicated by Kellyanne Conway.”
- Affidavits explaining whether two RNC members, Rob Gleason and Ronna Romney McDaniel, are truly mobilizing poll watchers to prevent voter fraud in Pennsylvania and Michigan, respectively, as both have stated.
Even if the RNC complies with this order, it seems unlikely that court intervention will prevent the Trump campaign from intimidating voters on Election Day if it really plans to do so. A number of courts have already ordered Republican officials in several states to halt their voter suppression efforts. Republicans are ignoring them—and getting away with it. Why should the Trump campaign respect the law when Republicans across the country are currently flouting it with impunity?