By JOSH CORNFIELD and DAVID PORTER, Associated Press
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Lawyers for Democrats around the country are filing lawsuits claiming Republicans and the campaign of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump are pushing supporters to intimidate and confront voters on Election Day.
Trump has called on his supporters to act as “election observers” in certain areas of the country to help prevent fraud.
In Ohio, a federal judge on Friday issued a temporary restraining order against Trump’s campaign and his friend and informal adviser, Roger Stone, barring them from harassing or intimidating Ohio voters during Tuesday’s election.
Attorneys representing the Democratic Party argued Friday in New Jersey court that the GOP was coordinating with Trump to intimidate voters, accusations that the Republican Party says are not true in that state or in four other states where Democrats are waging similar battles.
Here’s a look at the cases being heard around the country:
The case is different than the ones filed in the states as it relates to a consent decree in place since 1982 regulating what the Republican National Committee can do when it comes to issues of ballot security.
The consent decree was created after Democrats alleged that the RNC helped intimidate black voters during New Jersey’s 1981 gubernatorial election. The RNC and New Jersey’s Republican Party allegedly had off-duty law enforcement officers stand at polling places in urban areas wearing “National Ballot Security Task Force” armbands. Some had guns visible.
The RNC admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to the decree to settle the case. The decree only regulates work done by the RNC and is scheduled to end next year. The Democratic National Committee wants it extended another eight years, but needs to convince a judge that the RNC has violated the 34-year-old rules.
Joshua Kaul, an attorney representing the Democratic National Committee, told the judge in Newark, New Jersey, on Friday that Trump has “repeatedly encouraged his supporters to engage in vigilante efforts” in the guise of ferreting out potential voter fraud. Kaul said the RNC is participating.
Bobby Burchfield, an attorney for Republicans, told the judge that party volunteers are engaging in normal poll-watching and that Democrats haven’t found one instance in which someone was intimidated or prevented from voting.
Judge John Michael Vazquez did not immediately rule.
U.S. District Judge James Gwin ruled Friday in a lawsuit filed by the Ohio Democratic Party that anyone who engages in intimidation or harassment inside or near Ohio polling places would face contempt of court charges. Gwin dismissed the Ohio Republican Party as a defendant in the case.
Attorneys for both sides declined to comment after the nearly three-hour hearing.
The Ohio Democratic Party claimed in its lawsuit that the Ohio GOP, the Trump campaign and operative Roger Stone and political action committee Stop the Steal were conspiring to suppress minorities in urban areas from casting ballots on Tuesday. The lawsuit cited comments made by Trump and his surrogates about voter fraud and efforts by Democrats to steal the election.
A federal judge in Las Vegas on Thursday said he hasn’t seen evidence that Trump’s campaign is training people to intimidate voters.
U.S. District Judge Richard Boulware said he doesn’t expect to issue a restraining order that Democrats sought ahead of Tuesday’s election, but won’t issue a final ruling until a hearing on Friday about whether Stone was encouraging what Democrats call “vigilante voter intimidation.”
At a four-hour proceeding in Phoenix on Thursday, Stone’s attorney said Democrats have not produced evidence that his client or “Stop the Steal” is intimidating voters.
“My client is engaging in legal First Amendment speech,” attorney Paul Jensen told U.S. District Judge John Tuchi.
The chairman of the Arizona Republican Party testified that the party helped train certified poll watchers and told them to avoid confronting voters inside polling locations and not to intimidate voters. Chairman Robert Graham acknowledged that they are encouraged to follow those they suspect of illegally dropping off multiple ballots out of the polling place to photograph them.
The attorney for Arizona Democrats, Mike Gottlieb, urged Tuchi to issue an injunction blocking what he called illegal tactics.
“This is an election unlike any other where the candidate has gone around the country and implored his supporters to engage in aggressive poll watching,” Gottlieb said.
A judge has scheduled arguments in Pennsylvania on Monday.
Cornfield reported from Trenton, New Jersey. Associated Press writers Mark Gillespie in Cleveland, Bob Christie in Phoenix and Ken Ritter in Las Vegas contributed to this story.