Dems, GOP put le­gal help in mo­tion

Lawyers for both par­ties al­ready at work

Baltimore Sun - - ELECTION 2016 - By David G. Savage

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.

ERIC GAY/AP

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