The Republican National Committee has been unleashed from a decades-old prohibition against participating in election law litigation, and it is now vigorously joining court action across the country to defend new voting laws in GOP-run states.
The RNC had been under a consent decree since 1982 after the Democratic National Committee sued it over allegedly disenfranchising minority voters in the New Jersey gubernatorial race. The consent decree kept the RNC out of organizing poll watchers, enlisting poll workers and participating in election law litigation.
The RNC is now ramping up all those activities.
“In all cases, it’s about transparency,” an RNC official told The Washington Times, requesting anonymity to discuss litigation strategy. “We have to do more. Democrats have had a seat at the table for 40 years but I think that in the first two years of our election integrity program, it was really effective. The goal was to promote transparency.”
The RNC successfully sued in Pennsylvania ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm elections to disallow the counting of updated mail-in ballots.
The party also is taking Google to court over allegedly suppressing its fundraising emails, especially at the end of the month when fundraising is the highest. The case was filed last month and is currently pending in the Eastern District of California.
And in 2021, the RNC intervened to defend new restrictions on mail-in voting in states such as Texas and Georgia when the Biden administration and Democratic-aligned groups sued to strike down the new election laws.
The 1982 consent decree was the outcome of a Democratic National Committee lawsuit alleging the RNC disenfranchised minority voters in a New Jersey gubernatorial race.
The RNC had sample ballots sent to minority neighborhoods and also put off-duty cops in the minority precincts with armbands labeling them as the “National Ballot Security Task Force.” The court described it as voter intimidation.
Under the consent decree, the RNC agreed to stop engaging in certain “ballot security” programs including “any program aimed at combating voter fraud by preventing potential voters from registering to vote or casting a ballot.”
The decree was lifted in 2019 after the DNC was unable to prove the RNC had violated the nearly 40-year-old order.
During those four decades, the GOP campaigns had to employ their own election integrity efforts — including shouldering the cost of expensive lawsuits.
“We were at a huge disadvantage because the DNC was not under the same consent decree,” the RNC official said.
Since 2019, the RNC has used its volunteer network to recruit poll watchers and workers. The GOP also developed software allowing poll watchers to flag problems on the ground. That gives attorneys the ability to quickly review — and if appropriate challenge — what is happening at the polls.
In the last election cycle, about 20,000 issues were flagged by the RNC. Examples included voting locations in Virginia turning away unmasked voters in 2021 and poll workers in Harris County, Texas, turning away voters after claiming they did not have enough printed ballots.
It was also how the RNC discovered quickly that 2 out of every 5 voting machines in Maricopa County, Arizona, were not working during the 2022 midterms.
The RNC sued to keep polling places open longer over the problem, but a court ruled against them.
An official from Democracy Docket, a left-leaning voting rights outfit that tracks election litigation, noted the RNC — or its state organizations — have been plaintiffs in 15 out of 79 cases filed in 2022. It described the litigation as seeking “to restrict access to voting.”
Out of those 15 cases, six have been decided and the RNC has only won one.
The RNC insists its goal isn’t to restrict voting access but to ensure everyone plays fairly.
“Now that the playing field is level again, the RNC is investing heavily to ensure that all our volunteers and poll watchers are trained and abide by each state’s laws for observing the voting process. Republicans strongly believe in protecting the integrity of U.S. elections and respecting the voting laws on the books,” wrote RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel in an op-ed for The Washington Post after the consent decree ended.
A ruling from a federal appeals court earlier the year recognizing the GOP’s interest in seeing these legal battles played out in court has helped the RNC get into more legal fights than it had been able to do before the 2020 elections when many states were altering their election procedures in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A senior RNC official told The Times that the ruling issued earlier this year from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has given it legal authority to intervene wherever election security matters are being challenged.
“What we learned is Democrats like to sue and settle. They just knew if they sued they could water it down,” the official said.
• Alex Swoyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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