This could be a very bad week for voting rights in the United States. On Friday, a federal consent decree to stop potential voter suppression by the Republican National Committee—in place since 1982—is set to expire unless further extended by a federal district court in New Jersey. What happens next, with Donald Trump in charge of the Republican Party, will likely not be pretty. In 1981, the Democratic National Committee sued the RNC over its rival’s “ballot security” measures, which the Democrats alleged were aimed at suppressing minority voters.
As the district court later explained, the suit alleged that:
[I]n connection with the 1981 New Jersey Gubernatorial election, the RNC and the New Jersey Republican State Committee attempted to intimidate the minority voters, in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Specifically, the RNC sent sample ballots to areas where a large portion of the voters were ethnic minorities, then asked that the name of each voter whose sample ballot was returned as undeliverable be removed from New Jersey’s voter rolls. In addition, in an alleged effort of intimidation, the RNC hired off-duty law enforcement officers to patrol polling places in minority precincts. The officers wore armbands that read: “National Ballot Security Task Force,” and some carried two-way radios and firearms.
Rather than fight the charges, the RNC agreed to settle the case in a “consent decree,” a settlement agreement between the parties that is also embodied in a court order. This has meant that if the RNC violated the agreement, the DNC could seek to hold it in contempt.