In a story Nov. 30 about the scheduled expiration of a federal consent decree, a headline by The Associated Press mischaracterized the effect on the Republican National Committee. The RNC will be free to engage in legal election-related activities.
A corrected version of the story is below:
Court order to expire in voting rights case against GOP
A federal consent decree prohibiting the Republican National Committee from engaging in tactics that can lead to voter intimidation is set to expire on Friday
By CHRISTINA A. CASSIDY
A 35-year-old federal court order prohibiting the Republican National Committee from engaging in voter verification and other "ballot security" measures is set to expire Friday, something the GOP says is long overdue but voting rights advocates argue is still needed to prevent intimidation at the polls.
Lawyers for the Republican National Committee said in court filings that the organization has been in compliance for years, even going beyond what is outlined in the consent decree. It opts against participating in poll-watching activities, for example, even though they are allowed under the order.
"The RNC has worked hard to comply with its obligations under the Consent Decree," lawyers wrote in documents filed with the court.
The filing noted efforts to educate members, employees, contractors and volunteers about the requirements under the order and specifically directing members that RNC resources cannot be used on prohibited activities.
But critics say the landscape of voting rights has shifted under President Donald Trump, a Republican who continues to promote unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud during the 2016 campaign and has launched a presidential advisory commission to investigate. Trump lost the popular vote by about 2.8 million votes to Democrat Hillary Clinton.
They note Trump has installed leaders at the U.S. Department of Justice who are more supportive of state efforts to implement voting restrictions such as strict photo ID requirements. During the campaign, civil rights groups supporting the court order expressed alarm that Trump, at one point, urged his supporters to monitor polling places on Election Day in an effort to detect fraud.
"I fear that if the consent decree is not left in place we may see a resurgence of this kind of activity at the polls on Election Day," said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "Challenging voter eligibility is an old and familiar tactic used to intimidate and depress voter turnout, particularly among minority voters."
In a statement, Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Adrienne Watson called the existing court order an essential protection "to prevent voters from being intimidated at the polls." The DNC has asked the judge to find the RNC in violation; if granted, that would extend the consent decree another eight years.
The legal battle dates to 1981, when the Democratic National Committee filed a federal lawsuit against its Republican counterpart, alleging the RNC helped intimidate black voters that year during New Jersey's election for governor. The lawsuit claimed the RNC and the state GOP had off-duty law enforcement officers stand at polling places in urban areas wearing armbands that read "National Ballot Security Task Force," with guns visible on some.
Without acknowledging any wrongdoing, the Republican National Committee agreed the following year to enter into a consent decree that restricted its ability to engage in ballot security activities.
On Wednesday, Judge John Michael Vazquez of U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey, denied a request by the DNC to hold a hearing but did allow its lawyers to question former Republican National Committee official Sean Spicer about his activities at Trump Tower on the night of the 2016 election. Vazquez did not extend the consent decree in the order, but reserved the right to do so if a violation is later proven.
Over the years, Democrats have challenged the RNC's compliance with the consent decree, which has been modified twice since it was signed in 1982. Last year, the judge in the case denied a request to sanction the RNC over allegations they were coordinating with the Trump campaign on activities that might constitute voter intimidation.
The consent decree applies to the RNC and the state GOP in New Jersey. It does not affect the activities of state Republican organizations elsewhere.
Follow Christina Almeida Cassidy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/AP_Christina