Democrats are deploying an “army of poll watchers” this November, and for the first time in decades the Republican Party can too. Since 1982, only the Democratic National Committee has been afforded this standard practice, after Democrats sued the Republican National Committee, accusing us of voter intimidation in a New Jersey governor’s race. The case was settled and resulted in a federal court consent decree that curbed Republican ballot-security efforts for 38 years, giving the Democrats a significant advantage in their political get-out-the-vote operations, recounts and absentee and provisional ballot “chases.”
Though Democrats say they want to keep the RNC under this consent decree in perpetuity because Republicans will intimidate voters at polling places, it’s clear they want to maintain that court-imposed leg up on Republicans.
Many think poll watchers are present to deter voter fraud. While that is one of the legitimate reasons for observing the elections process, getting out the vote is equally important. The consent decree prevented the RNC from coordinating with our presidential candidates and state parties in a common practice known as “poll flushing,” in which volunteers can look at precinct lists to see who has voted. That access allows organizers to see where they need to increase voter outreach via efforts such as door-knocking and making phone calls to boost turnout.
The consent decree also prevented the RNC from gathering important real-time information about the elections process that only poll watchers can gather, such as which voters were required to vote provisionally or were even turned away from the polling place. Without poll watchers, the RNC would have no good way to follow up with its voters to help ensure a provisional ballot is later counted, direct confused voters to their correct polling place and document irregularities, such as voting equipment malfunctions and other incidents that are important flash points in a close election or recount.
In other words: Our access is about more people voting, not fewer. That’s the opposite of Democrats’ claims of “voter suppression.”
For decades, the DNC has been able to coordinate with Democratic campaigns. In 2012, for example, the Obama-Biden campaign bragged about sending 18,000 lawyers to watch the polls, while the RNC could not send any. Democrats repeatedly fought to extend the consent decree that put them at an advantage.
They were successful until 2018, when an Obama-appointed U.S. District Court judge rejected their last-gasp arguments. “You’ve had over a year to gather evidence of voter suppression or ballot integrity efforts,” Judge John Michael Vazquez said in a 2017 proceeding, “and I don’t have any of that evidence before me. None.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, which later affirmed Vazquez’s ruling, did not buy Democrats’ cries of “voter suppression.” Neither should anyone else. If the RNC wanted fewer people to vote, we would not have more than 2,000 field staffers registering voters all across the country.
Now that the playing field is level again, the RNC is investing heavily to ensure that all our volunteers and poll watchers are trained and abide by each state’s laws for observing the voting process. Republicans strongly believe in protecting the integrity of U.S. elections and respecting the voting laws on the books. It is actually the Democrats who are in courtrooms across the country trying to strip away those existing laws.
Just like nearly every other aspect of Americans’ lives right now, polling places will undoubtedly look a little different than they have in the past. That is all the more reason that both parties should be present. Poll watching helps ensure that all votes are accurately and legally tabulated and that no voter is disenfranchised.
It is no secret that Republicans have concerns about a rushed transition to mail-in voting. States that vote entirely by mail made that transition over time, in most cases over years. But whether you share those concerns, surely everyone can agree that Americans need confidence in our elections and to know that both sides are playing by the same rules. Democrats can coordinate with each other for their Election Day operations. Now Republicans can do the same.
With a tremendous enthusiasm gap, lack of campaign infrastructure and a candidate they barely let leave his basement, it’s no wonder that Democrats are already spreading a narrative of a coming “voter-suppression catastrophe.” In reality, the biggest threat to turnout is not Republicans. It is the lack of excitement for Joe Biden.
Ronna McDaniel is chairwoman of the Republican National Committee.