Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s call for election observers to prevent the Democrats from “rigging this election” could run afoul of a 30-year-old restriction on GOP activities targeting minority voters that stems from a New Jersey election. The Republican National Committee and “its agents” have been under court-imposed limits since the 1981 New Jersey gubernatorial election, narrowly won by Tom Kean, in which the state party reportedly targeted heavily minority communities that tend to support Democratic candidates. The question is whether Trump, who is raising money jointly with the RNC, could be considered an “agent” of the party. “I think there’s a good argument for that, but it is far from certain a court would agree,” said election law expert Rick Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine. Hasen first raised the issue in his blog.
The Republican National Committee has been under court-imposed limits since New Jersey’s 1981 gubernatorial election. During the campaign, state GOP officials sent letters to residents of communities with large numbers of black or Hispanic voters, and then challenged anyone whose mail was returned as undeliverable, even though they were working off outdated registration lists.
Voters in minority communities in the state were met at the polls by signs reading, “This area is being patrolled by the National Ballot Security Task Force,” and by off-duty police officers and deputy sheriffs hired by the party who, according to the original complaint, “obstructed and interfered” with the normal operations of the polling places.
In response to a lawsuit brought by the Democratic National Committee and the state party, the RNC signed a consent degree in which it agreed to not undertake “ballot security activities” in areas with a large concentration of minority voters “where a purpose or significant effect of such activities is to deter qualified voters from voting.”