A federal judge in New Jersey on Tuesday rejected an attempt by the Republican National Committee to end nearly three-decade-old restrictions on GOP "ballot security" programs that historically discriminated against minority voters.
In a ruling that extended the restrictions for at least another eight years, but also slightly narrowed the consent decree containing them, U.S. District Court Judge Dickinson Debevoise of Newark asserted that “voter intimidation presents an ongoing threat to the participation of minority individuals in the political process.”
The consent decree stems from a lawsuit brought in the early 1980s in New Jersey by the Democratic National Committee, which accused the Republican National Committee of suppressing minority voters under the guise of guarding against voter fraud, partly by challenging their registrations if mail sent to their residences was returned as undeliverable, and by stationing off-duty police around polling places in minority neighborhoods.
The resulting consent decree, which barred the RNC from launching any ballot security programs without prior court approval, was expanded in 1987 to cover the entire country.
But the RNC, in a motion filed with little fanfare the day before Barack Obama’s historic presidential election victory, argued that since the 1980s, the risk of fraud has increased, while the need for minority voter protection measures has decreased.
The DNC countered that the RNC was exaggerating the danger of voter fraud and said the potential for such fraud is outweighed by the risk of voter intimidation efforts by Republican groups, pointing to a recent decision by the New Jersey court that the RNC had engaged in illegal voter challenges as recently as the 2004 presidential election.
The RNC contended that the consent decree had been interpreted too broadly and made it tougher for Republicans to ensure an even electoral playing field. Plus, it said it had no incentive to intimidate minority voters, pointing to its own election of Michael Steele, who is African-American, as chairman, and asserting that Obama’s election meant existing voting rights laws would be adequate to protect minority voters without the decree.