Voter intimidation arguments head to federal court, heard Friday in Ohio

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

CLEVELAND (AP) – A federal judge in Cleveland is scheduled to hold a hearing on Friday on a civil complaint filed by the Ohio Democratic Party that seeks to stop Republicans and supporters of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump from intimidating minority voters and preventing them from casting ballots in urban areas on Election Day.

Democratic Party organizations in three other states – Nevada, Arizona and Pennsylvania – filed similar lawsuits beginning Sunday.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Cleveland cites the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, laws passed by Congress to stop voter intimidation against blacks. The defendants include the Ohio Republican Party, Trump’s campaign, political operative Roger Stone and Stone’s political action committee, Stop the Steal.

Arguments in the case will be heard by U.S. District Judge James Gwin.

The complaint cites statements made by Trump and his surrogates about how Democrats will try to steal the election and the need for supporters to gather at polling places to prevent that from occurring. The lawsuit claims that Trump encouraged supporters during an Ohio appearance this summer to “act as vigilantes” on Election Day.

A Columbus, Ohio-based attorney for the Trump campaign responded in a court filing on Wednesday that the lawsuit is based on “rhetoric, not evidence.” The Trump campaign will follow election laws on Tuesday and notes there haven’t been any reported cases of voter intimidation since Ohio’s early voting period began Oct. 12, attorney Chad Readler wrote in his motion.

“These filings are based on miscellaneous long-ago statements, vague innuendo, rank speculation, and a heavy dose of rhetoric – all geared solely toward creating political mayhem rather than preventing actual misconduct,” Readler wrote.

The Ohio Republican Party has called the lawsuit a “publicity stunt.”

Both political parties have long used party members as official election observers.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper has said his party will have observers inside at least 1,500 polling locations, along with a help center and a team of lawyers on standby. A spokeswoman for the state Republican Party says the GOP plans a similar number of official observers and its own Election Day war room with a team of attorneys in Columbus.

Roger Stone, who created the Stop the Steal PAC, is a political operative with a history of ties to Trump and his campaign. Stone has said in an emailed response that the lawsuit is without merit and that his organization is not coordinating with the Trump campaign or any official GOP organizations. He said it is partnering with a group called Vote Protectors to conduct exit polls and plans to compare those responses with the voting machine results in 7,000 precincts nationwide.

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