A U.S. District Court in New Jersey has terminated a consent decree from a 1981 case where the Republican National Committee engaged in voter suppression by intimidation, a case that has been reopened several times due to renewed efforts to prevent voting, especially by minority populations. This is a recipe for disaster.
I’ve written a lot about this case in the past because it was reopened several times, including for cases in Michigan that I covered. In the original case, the RNC hired off-duty police officers and put them in uniforms with badges declaring them to be officers of the “National Ballot Security Task Force” (a non-existent law enforcement agency), then had them hang out at polling places with high numbers of minority voters. They also sent sample ballots to homes and everyone whose ballot came back undeliverable was purged from the voter rolls. The DNC sued over this and the RNC agreed to a consent order saying they would never do it again. And then they did, over and over again in other states, causing the case to be reopened and new enforcement to take place.
Rick Hasan, the nation’s leading expert on election law, explains why the voiding of that consent order is bad:
With the consent decree gone, the RNC will for the first time in 35 years be free to begin anew efforts to spur purges of voter rolls and take potentially suppressive ballot security measures in the name of preventing voter fraud. No doubt RNC lawyers would advise against taking these steps, at least for a while, to forestall the DNC from running back to court seeking to have the consent decree reinstated.
But with Trump the real head of the Republican Party these days, it is quite possible he could order a national effort to combat phantom voter fraud, just like he did with his own campaign. Indeed, making false claims about Democratic and minority voter chicanery is a cornerstone of Trump’s divisive agenda. Yelling voter fraud riles up the base, helps with fundraising, and can depress minority voter turnout.
The Trump era has caused voting rights activists to be extra vigilant against efforts to suppress the vote, from Trump’s faux “election integrity” commission to the Department of Justice’s reversal of an Obama-era position against a particular form of voter purging in Ohio. But the removal of the consent decree could supercharge voter suppression efforts, offering Trump the opportunity to hijack the RNC and direct it toward his own efforts to explain away his 3 million voter loss in the American popular vote and rile his base against poor and minority voters.
Those seeking to protect voting rights have already had their work cut out for them in the Trump era. Things could be about to get a whole lot worse.
They undoubtedly will. Anyone who expects Trump or the RNC to do anything other than work overtime to suppress the votes of minorities is living in a fantasy world.