A long-standing court order prohibiting the Republican National Committee from engaging in voter verification and other “ballot security” measures expired Friday, although a federal judge left open the possibility it could be extended if a prior violation is found.
The consent decree, first implemented in 1982, expired after Judge John Michael Vazquez of U.S. District Court in New Jersey took no action to extend it. Democrats continue to press their concerns with the judge.
In an order this week, Vazquez denied a request from the Democratic National Committee for a hearing but did allow its lawyers to question former Republican National Committee official Sean Spicer. At issue is Spicer’s visit to Trump Tower on the night of the 2016 election.
The judge also ordered the RNC to turn over any relevant emails related to Spicer’s visit to the Trump campaign’s poll-monitoring operation. Vazquez said he would be willing to consider whether the order could be extended if a violation is found.
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Spicer was an official with the RNC at the time, before going on to serve as White House press secretary during the early months of Donald Trump’s presidency.
The RNC says it has been in compliance with the consent decree for years.
“As the judge has made clear, the DNC has failed to find any evidence of a violation despite repeated efforts to do so,” Ryan Mahoney, the RNC’s communications director, said in a statement. “We are literally one hundred percent confident that this time will be no different.”
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 activities related to ballot security.
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 consent decree applied to the RNC and the state GOP in New Jersey. It did not affect the activities of state Republican organizations elsewhere.
Follow Christina Almeida Cassidy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/AP_Christina