Dems accuse Mich. GOP of voter intimidation

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Democrats allege the Michigan Republican Party is colluding with GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign and others “to threaten, intimidate, and thereby prevent minority voters in urban neighborhoods from voting,” according to a complaint filed Friday in Detroit federal court.

The Democrats cited an unnamed source in an Oct. 27 Bloomberg News story that suggests the Trump campaign will be engaged in efforts to depress voter turnout. The complaint was filed pursuant to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871.

“We have three major voter suppression operations under way,” the source said, which Democrats in the lawsuit allege “target African Americans and other groups of voters.”

The source, identified as a “senior official” for the Trump campaign, did not explicitly mention Michigan in the comment.

Michigan Republican Party spokeswoman Sarah Anderson called the complaint a “desperate” attempt to regain political standing in a state where Trump is gaining political popularity.

“For starters it’s frivolous, baseless, insulting, shameful,” Anderson said, calling it “a desperate act by a floundering campaign that can’t win on the issues.”

Wayne State University law professor Peter Henning said Democrats may have difficulty proving a Republican conspiracy to suppress voters based on media reports and Trump’s stump comments.

“The problem the Democratic Party faces is proving an actual conspiracy and not just a series of political statements that have been made,” Henning said. “And a conspiracy under the Ku Klux Klan Act means there has to be an agreement for a specific violation of voting rights. Even with all those public statements, that’s still gonna be very difficult to establish.”

Lawyers for Democrats around the country are filing the voter intimidation suits.

The Democratic National Committee has filed a similar suit against the Republican National Committee in a New Jersey federal court concerning a 1982 consent decree.

In Ohio, U.S. District Judge James Gwin ruled Friday in a lawsuit filed by the state’s 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.

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.

A federal judge in Las Vegas said Thursday 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.

The Democratic complaint requests federal action to “restrain” any Michigan Republican Party officials, Trump campaign officials or their supporters “from organizing efforts to engage in voter intimidation,” such as “aggressive questioning of those waiting to vote, threats or suggestions of legal or criminal action, or any other form of menacing or intimation of violence.”

Anderson said the party employs people to ensure people are properly registered to vote at polling places, have photo identification and are asked to sign an affidavit if they do not have a valid photo ID. Democrats also employ such poll watchers, she said.

Democrats contend the poll watching is more nefarious.

“It has become increasingly clear in recent weeks that Trump has sought to advance his campaign’s goal of ‘voter suppression’ … to implore his supporters to engage in unlawful intimidation at Michigan polling places” using as examples public speeches in which Trump urges his supporters to watch polling places on Nov. 8 to ensure that Hillary Clinton supporters are not voting more than once, according to the Democratic Party complaint.

The complaint claims the “suppression” efforts could include encouraging, funding or supporting untrained, non-officials to be present at polling places or voting lines who might challenge, question or attempt to verify voting eligibility.

The complaint also lists among possible intimidation effort the monitoring of polling places, the distribution of literature “stating to individuals that voter fraud is a crime,” loitering outside polling places, following voters, taking photos or recording voters or any such questioning that might be done “under the guise of purported ‘exit polling’” or citizen journalism.

Trump has argued that the election may be rigged and has encouraged supporters to go watch polling places, although Michigan elections officials and others say there is no evidence of a rigged election.

The lawsuit claims Trump’s “voter suppression” efforts were “amplified” by the Michigan Republican Party because the political organization helps organize, finance and assist Trump supporters in the New York businessman’s bid for the presidency.

“And Trump’s supporters have responded with pledges to descend upon polling places in ‘certain areas’ where many minority voters live in order to interfere with their efforts to exercise the franchise,” the complaint alleges.

Anderson, the state’s GOP spokeswoman, said the party’s attorneys are reviewing the complaint.

The complaint raises issues “that are extremely concerning,” said Dan Korobkin, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

The Michigan Democratic Party later issued a statement: “We have every confidence that a record number of voters will make their voices heard in this election, and we are committed to helping them do so.”

The Associated Press contributed