On Friday, U.S. District Judge James Gwin issued a restraining order barring the Trump campaign and Roger Stone from engaging in “harassing or intimidating conduct” at the polls. Gwin, who presides over the Northern District of Ohio, cited recent comments by Trump campaign surrogates suggesting that supporters should engage in “ballot security,” although he instructed both Democrats and Republicans to refrain from intimidating voters. Voter harassment is illegal, but the line between harassing voters and “monitoring” the polls can be blurry. Gwin’s order makes clear that any Trump supporter or Stone operative who intimidates voters is violating the law, as well as his Friday order, and will be punished accordingly. The judge declined to extend his order to the Ohio Republican Party, as the Democratic litigants had requested, citing lack of evidence that they intended to intimidate voters.
Even before Gwin issued his decision, the Trump campaign appeared to be walking back its calls for vigilante poll monitoring. On Thursday, the campaign promised not to intimidate voters on Election Day and instructed campaign workers on how to behave properly at the polls. As Election Day draws near, at least some faction within the campaign appears eager to avoid accusations that Trump supporters suppressed minority votes by scaring them out of casting a ballot.
State Democratic parties have filed six complaints alleging that the Trump campaign, Stone operatives, and Republican officials plan to engage in voter intimidation on Election Day. This litigation is especially worrisome for the Republican National Committee, which remains bound by a 1982 consent decree requiring judicial oversight of any “ballot security” measures. The decree is currently set to expire in 2017; if the RNC is found to have violated it, however, the courts may extend it long into the future. Several other complaints against Trump, Stone, and the Republican Party remain pending. Election Day is Tuesday.