Amid federal law enforcement concerns about calls for violence around Election Day, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is accusing the Republican National Committee (RNC) of violating a long-standing decree that restricts Republicans’ ability to question voters at polls and prevent those people from casting ballots.
CBS News’ Jeff Pegues has learned that federal law enforcement officials are concerned about the increasing calls for violence on and following Election Day, particularly from Donald Trump’s supporters. Officials are weighing warning police agencies nationwide, but are concerned that any sort of warning would be dismissed as “federal officials playing politics,” which could open law enforcement up to claims of bias in the lead-up to Election Day.
One federal official source said if law enforcement goes public in the days before the election “it comes across as political but post-election it might be too late.”
On Wednesday, the DNC filed a lawsuit in New Jersey federal court asking a judge to block the RNC from engaging in such voter intimidation tactics. It appears to come in response to Donald Trump’s repeated claims recently that the presidential election is “rigged.”
The DNC asked the judge to prohibit the RNC from allocating money to fund, reimburse expenses or provide support to Donald Trump and his campaign’s “voter intimidation program” or Trump supporters’ plans to serve as poll-watchers on Election Day on Nov. 8.
The lawsuit also asks the judge to direct the RNC to seek reimbursement from Trump’s campaign or state political groups for any funds used for any prohibited “ballot security measures.”
The decree the Democrats say the GOP is violating dates back to 1982, and was modified in 1987, which came after voter caging was found to be taking place in neighborhoods that had large black and Hispanic populations, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Voter caging is the illegal practice of sending mass mails to registered voters, then compiling lists of the voters from the mail that is returned undelivered and using that list to challenge voter registrations. “When it is targeted at minority voters (as it often is, unfortunately), it is also illegal,” the Brennan Center notes on its website.
In 2008, the DNC and President Obama’s campaign asked for the enforcement of the decree because it they claimed the RNC hadn’t submitted ballot security operations for review.
In December 2017, the decree expires unless the judge grants the DNC’s request in the lawsuit to have it extended for eight years.
For months, Trump has claimed that the election is “rigged” and has recently talked about the threat of widespread voter fraud, despite studies showing that it’s actually quite rare.
At a rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania earlier this month, Trump suggested that there could be problems in Philadelphia and wants to ensure the vote is protected 100 percent.
“Everybody wants that, but I hear these horror shows,” Trump told his supporters. “I hear these horror shows and we have to make sure that this election is not stolen from us and is not taken away from us. And everybody knows what I’m talking about.”
As a result, Trump has been encouraging his supporters to serve as poll-watchers on Election Day. His campaign website even has a webpage asking for volunteers to be Trump election observers.
“Help me stop Crooked Hillary from rigging this election!” says the form, which prompts supporters to sign up.
At the third and final presidential debate last week, Trump refused to say whether he would accept the results of the election next month.
CBS News’ Paula Reid, Jeff Pegues, Len Tepper, Emily Schultheis and Sopan Deb contributed to this report.