Every presidential election year we hear the same story. Throughout the United States, Americans complain of being turned away from the polls due to incorrect identification, their names not being placed on the voter registration list, ballot machines not working, or their ballots not being counted due to technicalities. On Monday, the Supreme Court denied the Republican National Committee’s request to lift a thirty year old consent decree that bars the committee from targeting minorities in an effort to end voter fraud.
Back in 1970s and 1980s, the Republican National Committee (RNC) created a “national ballot security task force” that sent targeted mailings to African American and Hispanic neighborhoods in New Jersey. If the mailings were returned as undelivered, party activists would place those individuals on a list so their ballot would be challenged if they showed up to the polls. In addition it was also alleged that the RNC hired off-duty police officers to patrol minority neighborhoods on the day of election. Soon after, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) sued the Republican National Committee (RNC) in federal court alleging violations of the Voting Rights Act and the RNC’s intention to suppress minority voters. Instead of fighting the charges through extensive litigation, the RNC agreed to the consent decree which promised that they would not engage in ballot security efforts which was later defined as “ballot integrity, ballot security or other efforts to prevent or remedy voter fraud” especially in minority communities.
In 2008, the DNC brought a lawsuit in which the district court clarified ballot security efforts as “any program aimed at combating voter fraud by preventing potential voters from registering to vote or casting a ballot.” In that case, the consent decree was upheld and the expiration date was extended until December 1, 2017. The RNC appealed the decree arguing that their decades-long compliance and good faith warrants lifting the order. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld the district court’s decision agreeing that the “mere passage of time” does not warrant lifting the order.
The Supreme Court did not offer an explanation as to why they declined to hear the RNC’s request to lift the decree. An official with the RNC who wished to remain anonymous, stated regarding the case, “It was a standard legal proceeding where we had been seeking to lift the injunction that’s been in place for decades. We brought some technical legal issues to the Supreme Court after finding flaws in the lower court’s reasoning but the Court didn’t think they were substantive enough to review.”
DNC Lawyer Angelo Genova praised the Supreme Court’s decision stating, “The order remains integral to enforcing critical protections against minority voter suppression throughout our nation, protections that as are important today as they were thirty years ago.”