US judges skeptical of voter intimidation claims
PHOENIX (AP) — A federal judge in Las Vegas said Thursday he hasn’t seen evidence that Donald Trump’s campaign is training people to intimidate voters in Nevada.
U.S. District Judge Richard Boulware said he doesn’t expect to issue a restraining order that Democrats sought ahead of Tuesday’s election.
But Boulware said he won’t issue a final ruling until a hearing Friday afternoon about whether another defendant, Roger Stone Jr., and his group called “Stop the Steal” are encouraging what Democrats call “vigilante voter intimidation.”
Similar claims have been made in lawsuits filed in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Arizona.
At a four-hour proceeding in Phoenix on Thursday, Stone’s attorney said Democrats have not produced evidence that his client or “Stop the Steal” is intimidating voters.
“My client is engaging in legal First Amendment speech,” attorney Paul Jensen told U.S. District Judge John Tuchi.
The Democrats allege that Trump’s calls to supporters to show up at the polls to prevent voter fraud is a call to illegal intimidation tactics. They say Stone is organizing volunteer poll watchers to confront voters.
The chairman of the Arizona Republican Party testified that the party helped train certified poll watchers and told them to avoid confronting voters inside polling locations and not to intimidate voters. Chairman Robert Graham acknowledged that they are encouraged to follow those they suspect of illegally dropping off multiple ballots out of the polling place to photograph them.
The attorney for Arizona Democrats, Mike Gottlieb, urged Tuchi to issue an injunction blocking what he called illegal tactics.
“This is an election unlike any other where the candidate has gone around the country and implored his supporters to engage in aggressive poll watching,” Gottlieb said.
But lawyers for Trump and the state GOP said there’s no reason for what Tuchi himself called “pretty extraordinary relief.”
“The law doesn’t really allow for an injunction based on their mere speculation that someone may hear something somewhere and come to a state and harass voters,” Trump attorney Tim La Sota said.
Boulware’s comments came after Nevada’s top Trump election-day operations chief testified that on Thursday morning he sent emails to the more than 100 people he had trained as poll-watchers about rules they have to follow if they challenge a voter’s eligibility.
The judge acknowledged that Trump campaign official Jesse Law’s emailed instructions essentially pre-empted the remedy he would have considered if he found evidence of intentional omissions in training for poll-watchers.
“There doesn’t seem to be a basis at this point to issue a temporary restraining order,” Boulware told attorneys for the state Democratic party and a lawyer representing both the Nevada Republican Party and the Trump campaign.
He also told attorneys for the Democratic and Republican parties that he wasn’t convinced there was a firm link between Trump and Stone or between the campaign and the state party.
But in a nod to what the judge called “unique and special enthusiasm in this election,” he said he’ll keep time open Tuesday to hear any reports that might emerge about voter harassment at the polls.
The lawsuits target state Republican parties, Trump’s campaign, Stone and “Stop the Steal,” which is organizing what it calls “citizen journalists” and “poll watchers.”
The Trump campaign says the lawsuits are long on rhetoric and short on substance and designed to distract from Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s troubles.
The lawsuits cite provisions of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that prohibit intimidating or threatening voters.
Ritter reported from Las Vegas.