The Arizona Democratic Party wants a federal judge to block the state's Republican Party from an alleged effort to send out red-shirted Donald Trump supporters to hassle voters on Election Day.
Exactly how many Trump supporters will heed calls by the Republican presidential candidate or state party to act as polling-place observers or "citizen journalists" isn't clear. But similarly worded federal lawsuits filed by the Democratic Party on Monday in the U.S. District Courts of Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Ohio help the party push back publicly against Trump's claim that the voting system is "rigged" in favor of Hillary Clinton.
Based on the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, the lawsuit filed in Arizona (see below) outlines Trump's tactic of claiming he'll be the target of "voter fraud," and alleges that Florida Republican operative Roger Stone has "amplified Trump's message." Stone uses his website StopTheSteal.org to help Trump promote the idea that undocumented immigrants will engage in widespread illegal voting and that Clinton's side will steal "hundreds" of electoral votes, the suit alleges.
The suit states that Stone has spread the idea that Trump supporters should wear red shirts on Election Day and engage in operations in minority-heavy areas, drawing more than 2,000 volunteers — including 93 in Arizona — to commit to the idea (at least on the internet). Stone's leadership is of particular concern, the plaintiffs argue, because he "has a history of engaging in voter intimidation, racist and misogynist hate speech, and incitement to violence."
Robert Graham and Tim Sifert, officials with the state GOP, allegedly have taken their cues from Stone's intimidating program as a way to help motivate Arizona Republicans.
Graham has asserted that "observers" can "follow voters out into the parking lot, ask them questions, take their pictures, and photograph their vehicles and license plate" as long as they are at least 75 feet outside of a polling place, the suit states.
Sifert "has similarly encouraged poll watchers to ask purportedly suspicious voters to provide their names, and to 'turn on their phone to take video or pictures'" of the person and a license plate, the suit states. Sifert allegedly boasted that more than 1,000 people have signed up with the state party to be polling-place observers this year, 10 times more than usual.
Neither Sifert nor the state GOP's local lawyer, Tim LaSota, immediately returned a message left by New Times on Tuesday morning. (LaSota called back later — see update below).
The suit quotes a would-be observer, interviewed for a recent Boston Globe article, who claimed he'd use "racial profiling" to target Mexicans and "people who can't speak American," and would approach them in voting places to "make them a little bit nervous."
As the suit explains, the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 was designed to stop voter intimidation after the Civil War and provides for damages and judicial relief "if two or more persons conspire to prevent by force, intimidation, or threat," any eligible citizen from voting.
The suit is also based on the federal Voting Rights Act, which prohibits intimidation and threats against voters.
The Democratic Party wants a judge to declare that the GOP's "exit polling" and "citizen journalist" programs are illegal, as are the plans to aggressively question or threaten voters. The court should ban Trump and the GOP from encouraging people to engage in poll-watching activities, "loitering" near a polling place, "questioning, interrogating, or verbally harassing voters or prospective voters," and following voters to take photos or video of them, the suit states.
Attorney Sarah Gonski of Perkins Coie LLP, who's handling the injunction request for the Arizona Democratic Party, did not return a call from New Times.
The party's chair, Alexis Tameron, told the Associated Press that she was worried "rogue actors" would scare off voters. However, she gave a softer comment to New Times on Tuesday morning, saying, "We have every confidence that a record number of Arizonans will make their voices heard in this election, and we are committed to helping them do so. Period."
Arizona U.S. District Judge John Tuchi has scheduled a hearing on the matter for 1:30 p.m. on Thursday.
UPDATE 12:39 p.m.:
Tim LaSota, a local attorney representing the Arizona Republican Party, called back and denied that the GOP is pushing voters to “go out and follow voters around.”
On the other hand, if they believe a crime like “ballot harvesting” has occurred, the observers can call law enforcement and “are free in America if they feel compelled to take noninvasive steps to document a crime," he said.
The Arizona State Legislator passed a law last year making it a felony to collect early ballots for other people, with certain exceptions such as for family members.
LaSota said that Democrats “don’t believe in voter fraud” and apparently believe more “eyes on the process and openness” is not good.
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“This is about [Hillary Clinton’s] resurgent e-mail controversy,” LaSota said. “I think they’re desperate to change the subject.”
He added that the GOP believes the relief that Democrats are requesting is “extremely overbroad.”
Read Arizona Democratic Party v. Arizona Republican Party, Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., Roger J. Stone, Jr., and Stop the Steal, Inc.: