In a short unpublished opinion so far garnering only slight media attention, the United States Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit decided on Monday what may be one of the most consequential cases poised to affect the 2020 elections. The circuit upheld a district court decision ending a court order in effect since 1982 barring the Republican National Committee from engaging in “ballot security” measures designed to intimidate minority voters from voting at the polls. With Trump having taken over the RNC for the 2020 elections and with this consent decree no longer standing in his way, we should be concerned about a new wave of voter suppression coming from the Republican Party during the upcoming election.
In 1981, the Democratic National Committee sued the RNC over “ballot security” measures allegedly aimed at suppressing minority voters. Here is the district court’s summary of the DNC’s charges:
In 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.
Instead of fighting the charges, the RNC settled the case in a “consent decree.” This gave the DNC the power to seek contempt charges against the RNC if it appeared to violate an agreement not to engage in certain activities that could intimidate minority voters.