Ohio has become the second state – after Nevada – to order the Trump campaign to appear in court and answer charges of voter intimidation and suppression in urban areas.
A federal judge ordered Republican nominee Donald Trump, his longtime political advisor Roger Stone and the Ohio Republican Party into court this week to face charges of violating the Voting Rights Act and the remaining provisions of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which makes it illegal to conspire to deprive citizens of their civil rights, specifically voting rights. Cleveland.com reports:
The order entered Tuesday by U.S. District Judge James Gwin in Cleveland says the defendants’ response must include any objections to an order “limiting voter intimidation” or “limiting people at polling locations who are not authorized poll watchers or outside the polling stations.”
The speed in which Gwin ordered the response, while not necessarily signaling how he feels about the case, shows that the judge is taking the accusations of voter intimidation seriously before Nov. 8 Election Day.
The candidate may use a wink and a nod, but that doesn’t allow anyone to circumvent the federal laws governing elections. The US Constitution places all federal elections under the realm of congressional control, and the Voting Rights Act makes it illegal to intimidate or pressure anyone seeking to exercise their right to vote.
As the lawsuit indicates, even Ohio Republicans are reporting Trump supporters using illegal intimidation tactics in Cuyahoga County, the home of Cleveland’s large minority population:
According to Pat McDonald, the Republican Director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, Trump supporters have already visited the county elections board identifying themselves as poll observers, even though they did not appear to be credentialed as poll observers as required under Ohio law. Indeed, Trump’s fearmongering has caused Cuyahoga County election officials to express concerns of instability on Election Day and to raise the prospect of deploying law-enforcement officials to the polls if necessary to address polling place issues.
Democrats filed suit late Sunday night to enjoin Republicans from efforts which have included fake poll watcher badges and verbal conduct by the Trump campaign and nominee, plus efforts by Roger Stone’s Super PAC to exit-poll minority polling places, when in fact Stone doesn’t run a polling operation and hasn’t during this year’s campaign:
The lawsuit cites several examples of such comments by Trump made in Ohio, including a statement made at an Aug. 22 rally in Akron. “You’ve got to get everybody to go out and watch, and go out and vote,” Trump said at the rally. “And when I say ‘watch,’ you know what I’m talking about, right?” It also references an unnamed senior Trump campaign official who told Bloomberg News that “we have three major voter suppression operations under way.”
It also takes aim at Stone and a group he controls, Stop the Steal Inc., and seeks to stop them from conducting “exit polling” in nine cities that historically vote Democrat. These include Cleveland, Philadelphia and Las Vegas. Stone said in an emailed statement that the polls his organizations will conduct will be scientific. “We seek only to determine if the election is honestly and fairly conducted and to provide an evidentiary basis for a challenge to the election if that is not the case,” he said in the statement. “I assume the purpose of this bogus lawsuit is to distract from the voter-fraud the Democrats have traditionally engaged in.”
Stone did not provide any evidence to back up his fraud claim.
Ohio isn’t the only battleground state in the fight against Republican dirty tricks at the polls. Lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Nevada and Arizona are also being fought over the same issues, but with each local problem, such as the 94 vigilante poll watchers Roger Stone has signed up in Arizona for his Super PAC.
The Democratic National Committee is also suing its national counterpart, and just received extensive information about the RNC’s poll watching plans and geographic targeting which is still being held under seal by the federal court. A federal judge is hearing that case in Newark, N.J. tomorrow at 10am and a decision is expected sometime later in the day.
Ironically, the multi-state litigation is happening because the national Republican Party successfully separated state level parties from the 1982 court monitoring agreement, so now the Democratic Party must file new lawsuits in multiple states in addition to the national case. However, two state party chairmen that are also RNC members have become embroiled in the national case, as well as some of the Ohio issues have been cited in the national case against the RNC.
The Ohio federal court has greatly expedited this case, so expect more news before election day about rulings meant to protect the general public from vigilante “ballot security” operations.
Grant Stern is an Editor-At-Large for OccupyDemocrats and published author. His new Meet the Candidates 2020 book series is distributed by Simon and Schuster. He's also mortgage broker, community activist and radio personality in Miami, Florida., as well as the producer of the Dworkin Report podcast. Grant is also an occasional contributor to Raw Story, Alternet, and the DC Report, and a senior advisor to the Democratic Coalition