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Judge Denies Democrats' Request to Block RNC Poll Watching

Democrats had presented evidence they said showed the RNC violated a longstanding consent decree, but a federal judge said it wasn't enough.
Image: Early US Presidential voters wait in long lines in North Holllywood California
Voters cast their U.S. Presidential ballots after waiting in a line of nearly four-hours long during weekend early voting at a polling place in North Hollywood, California on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016.EUGENE GARCIA / EPA

A federal judge on Saturday denied Democrats’ request to issue an injunction against the Republican National Committee for allegedly violating a long-standing consent decree that bans the RNC from carrying out a range of poll-watching activities

Democrats had presented evidence that they said showed the RNC was conspiring with the Trump campaign to engage in poll-watching, in violation of the decree. That evidence included Trump’s frequent calls to supporters to closely monitor the polls in "certain areas," which have led to fears that minority voters in particular could be blocked from voting or intimidated.

But U.S. Judge John Michael Vazquez said there wasn’t currently enough evidence to support the claim, though he declined to rule on the merits until after the election.

More broadly, Democrats are having only mixed success in getting courts to limit Republican poll-monitoring. But whether that means the election will be marred by voter intimidation and harassment remains hard to predict.

Related: Potential Paths to Victory for Clinton and Trump

Democrats this week filed federal lawsuits in five states asking judges to block the Trump campaign and its ally, Roger Stone, from organized efforts to harass voters. Stone, a controversial political operative, has said he plans to conduct "exit-polling" in urban centers around the country through his organization "Stop the Steal," as a means of stopping fraud.

In Ohio, U.S. Judge James Gwin on Friday sided with Democrats, issuing a temporary restraining order that bars Republicans from conducting a range of illegal poll watching activities, including the exit polling plan.

In Arizona and Nevada, however, federal judges denied the Democratic requests. Judges in Pennsylvania — which Trump has several times singled out as a state where voting should be closely scrutinized — and North Carolina have yet to rule.

Still, there’s evidence that the mere existence of the lawsuits could be encouraging the Trump campaign and its allies to scale back their plans.

On Thursday, the campaign sent Nevada poll watchers an email that cited the lawsuit and warned them not to make a "frivolous or knowingly false challenge," and to call a campaign hotline before challenging voters.

Marc Elias, the Democratic attorney who has led the legal effort, called the email "the first success from the lawsuit."

And Friday, Stone filed court documents seeking to distance himself from "Stop the Steal," and pledging: "I have no intention whatsoever of violating any law or regulation."

Related: Tracking Reports of Voting Problems Across the United States

Legal maneuvering aside, it remains unclear whether fears that Trump supporters will flock to the polls en masse to intimidate and harass minority voters will be borne out.

Already, over 30 million votes have been cast, and there have been only scattered reports of intimidation.

In Virginia, a man who was legally armed and wearing a Trump t-shirt was reportedly asking voters who they planned to vote for in a manner at least one woman found intimidating. But no one was stopped from voting. In North Carolina, a local candidate for office who is also a poll worker was reportedly seen carrying a baseball bat marked Trump across the street from a voting site.

But voting rights advocates stress that election protection lawyers and volunteers are also watching, and they say voters shouldn’t be afraid to come to the polls.