Democrats sue Trump, GOP, to stop what they call voter intimidation

A Democratic lawsuit accuses Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump of using his campaign rallies, like this one in Phoenix Saturday, to “implore his supporters to engage in unlawful voter intimidation.”(Photo by Karla Liriano/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – The Arizona Democratic Party has filed suit against presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign, the Arizona Republican Party and others for what it calls a coordinated effort to “depress voter turnout,” particularly among minority voters.

The lawsuit filed Sunday alleges that Trump, state Republicans and Roger Stone Jr., whom it calls a campaign adviser, are “conspiring to threaten, intimidate, and thereby prevent minority voters in urban neighborhoods from voting in the 2016 election.”

The lawsuit, filed just nine days before the presidential election, says Trump’s rhetoric incites “vigilante voter intimidation” and violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Klu Klux Klan Act of 1871, which bans private conspiracies to intimidate or threaten voters.

The Arizona suit is one of four similar complaints by state Democratic parties, according to published reports that said they were also filed in Ohio, Nevada and Pennsylvania.

Neither the Arizona Democratic Party nor the Arizona Republican Party returned calls seeking comment Monday.

But attorney Tim LaSota, who represents the Arizona Republican Party, called the Democrats’ suit “completely without merit” and said “the timing of the lawsuit proves this is only to distract voters from the FBI’s announcement.”

He was referring to the announcement Friday by FBI director James Comey that the agency had found new emails that may be pertinent to its investigation of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. Comey had told Congress in July that the agency would not pursue charges against Clinton.

“You can’t divorce the political realities and the timing of this lawsuit,” LaSota said. “It’s obvious the Clinton campaign wants anything to distract from her email scandal.”

The suit cited Trump’s repeated insistence that the election is rigged and his call at campaign rallies for supporters to “descend upon polling places in ‘certain areas’ where many minority voters live in order to interfere with their efforts to exercise their franchise.”

It also cites plans by Stone’s group, Stop the Steal, to conduct exit polls in “Democratic-leaning cities with large minority populations,” efforts that the suit calls little more than an attempt to intimidate those voters.

“Trump’s calls for unlawful intimidation have grown louder and louder, and the conspiracy to harass and threaten voters on Election Day has already resulted in numerous acts that threaten to interfere with the voting rights of registered Arizona voters,” the lawsuit states.

State elections officials have said they will remain vigilant in case of any acts of violence at polling places, but noted that most people in Arizona vote by mail, according to Matt Roberts, a spokesman for Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan.

Stone’s website defended the exit polling as a legitimate check against possible voter fraud, and LaSota said nothing recommended by the Arizona Republican Party “is wrong, improper or illegal.”

“If you’ve ever been to a voting location on Election Day, there are plenty of people passing out literature,” LaSota said. “All we want to do is ensure legitimate voters are able to vote and there is actually a lot of value in having eyes on the political process.”

Pima County Republican Party Chairman Bill Beard called the Democrats’ claims “ludicrous,” adding that “there is no voter intimidation on the Trump side or on the Republican side. Period.”

Logan Churchwell, a spokesman for the voting integrity group True the Vote, said last week that warnings of voter fraud and voter intimidation are just part of each political party’s rhetoric.

“Every election since the 2010 election, we have noticed that Democratic Party candidates and Democratic-affiliated surrogates around September or October are very, very good at raising the alarm on concerns over voter suppression,” Churchwell said. “It’s part of their get-out-the-vote strategy … that is if you don’t go vote, the other team is going to suppress your vote.”

He said the Republican Party’s version of that argument appeals to the fear of the election being rigged in favor of Democrats. Trump “engaged” in that rhetoric this year, he said, “really matching that argument pound for pound and getting more attention for it.”

Churchwell said that if parties were “really concerned over election law they wouldn’t be talking about this in October. They would be talking about this before the primary.

“The rhetoric is to excite bases. It’s not about voting rights, it’s not about policy,” he said.