Dems, GOP put legal help in motion
Lawyers for both parties already at work
WASHINGTON — In the final days before the election, lawyers for the two major political parties are working to make sure voting is fair and free — but also readying to do battle if the outcome is in dispute.
In Philadelphia, where Democrats enjoy overwhelming majorities in many districts, Republican lawyers are scrambling to make sure they have authorized poll watchers at nearly all of the city’s 1,682 polling places. But it’s not always so simple.
“I’m absolutely concerned when one party controls the precinct,” said Linda Kerns, a Republican lawyer in Philadelphia. “But it’s not too easy to find Republicans in some of these precincts.”
In North Carolina and Texas, civil rights lawyers are working to make sure that eligible and registered voters are not blocked from casting ballots because they do not have a specific photo ID card. Earlier this year, federal courts struck down GOPbacked laws in both states that had imposed photo ID rules. Judges determined that the burden of the new rules fell unfairly on minority voters.
Meanwhile, Democratic Party lawyers are going before a federal judge in New Jersey on Friday to seek a court order that would hold officials of the Republican National Committee in contempt if they support or participate in what they call Donald Trump’s “voter intimidation program.”
Their legal motion puts a new spotlight on a 34-yearold consent decree that bars the RNC from undertaking “any ballot security activities” directed at black or Latino voters.
Three years ago, the RNC appealed to the Supreme Court and said the consent decree was “antiquated” and should be ended. But the Lawyers monitoring calls say they have heard of only scattered and minor reports of problems at early voting sites. justices turned down the appeal, leaving the decree intact for another national election.
Last week, Democratic Party lawyers went back to court and argued that the GOP, through its presidential nominee, has been violating the decree. Trump has repeatedly urged his supporters to “go down to certain areas and watch and make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times.”
In response, the Republican Party’s top lawyers insisted “the RNC and the Donald J. Trump campaign are separate entities.” In a brief filed Monday, John R. Phillippe Jr., the party’s general counsel, said he sent a memo to all the party’s staff saying the “RNC has no role and will not partake in any voter fraud or poll watching activities” and will not participate in “any ballot security efforts by other organizations, including Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.”
A federal judge will hold a hearing in Newark, N.J., on Friday to hear from both sides.
Meanwhile, both parties have signed up lawyers who have volunteered to help out if problems arise in their area.
In the disputed 2000 election, armies of lawyers descended upon Florida amid questions over the counting of paper card ballots and a razor-close margin. The Supreme Court ultimately decided George W. Bush vs. Al Gore in favor of Bush.
At the Washington headquarters of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a conference room has been buzzing as about 25 lawyers and law students take calls from voters and election workers whoreport problems and ask questions.
The “election protection hotline” began in 2002, and the call volume has grown with each election cycle. Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee group, said the largest numbers of calls have come from Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Georgia, states that had been under the close scrutiny of the Voting Rights Act until the Supreme Court relaxed the oversight provision in 2013.
Lawyers monitoring the calls say they have heard of only scattered and minor reports of problems at early voting sites, including people using bull horns to address voters. They will be on full alert on Tuesday.
In Philadelphia, Democratic and Republican lawyers say they can usually work together to resolve election-day problems.
“We have the same basic goal: that every single person who is qualified can vote without being harassed or abused,” said Steven Kaplan, a lawyer who works for the Democrats.