Editor’s note: Norman Eisen is a political law expert who advised the White House on election law when he was President Barack Obama’s ethics czar. Taylor Redd is a researcher who focuses on national elections. The opinions expressed in this comment are his own. Read more reviews on CNN.
Major victories in two voting rights cases this week halted efforts to harass early voters in Arizona and overwhelm Michigan’s election office with frivolous challenges.
In the first of those cases, Clean Elections USA — the organization that pushed for falsehoods that there was a “coordinated effort” at the polls in 2020 — was ordered by a district court judge on Tuesday not to take any action over the fallout in Arizona. boxes deemed scary by voters.
Clean Elections US founder Melody Jennings recruited people through Truth Social’s network of election deniers. One lawsuit alleged that Jennings was overseeing armed individuals he called “our people.” They were held at gunpoint while guarding them, according to the lawsuit, and focused on Arizona’s Maricopa County, the state’s most populous county, where a third of the population is Hispanic or Latino. (In response to reports of people carrying firearms, Jennings said he “wouldn’t make that choice and I’d rather my team not make that choice.”)
People who engage in such activities are sometimes motivated by disreputable conspiracies like the one depicted in the movie “2000 Mules,” and their efforts seem to have scared off some voters. In fact, Arizona voters submitted affidavits to the court that ballot box surveillance had a chilling effect on the tendency to vote by absentee ballot. In at least one documented case, people guarding the ballot boxes took pictures of a voter’s registration number.
A Trump-appointed judge ordered Clean Elections USA to halt some forms of voter surveillance on Tuesday. According to the court’s ruling, they are not allowed to come within 75 meters of the ballot box, shout at the voters within that radius or follow the voters, not even outside the 75 meter perimeter. And they are prohibited from openly carrying firearms or visibly wearing body armor within a 250-meter radius of the action boxes. Clean Elections USA was also ordered to stop publishing or disclosing personal information about people accused of voter fraud.
The group was ordered not to make false statements about Arizona’s voter fraud laws. The judge ordered the group to publish the following statement on its website and on the Truth Social page: “It is not always illegal to put a vote in multiple ballot boxes. It is legal to vote for a family member, household member or someone you are caring for. Here are the ballot box rules that I ask you to follow” with a copy of the Arizona law and court order. Jennings should also post similar language on the Truth Social page @TrumperMel during Election Day. An attorney for Clean Elections USA and Jennings said the group is likely to appeal on First Amendment grounds.
Meanwhile, in another victory for voting rights, the Michigan Republican Party and Republican National Committee lost their lawsuit Wednesday against the city of Flint’s election clerk and board.
Flint appeared to be cooperating with Republican requests to hire more GOP poll workers. In late October, the Michigan Republican Party and Republican National Committee sent a letter to city election officials with the names of interested Republican candidates, and the city hired an additional 50 Republican poll workers, bringing it from 682 to 120 Republican poll workers. in total
A few days later, the City of Flint sent an update to the Michigan Republican Party and the Republican National Committee reflecting the new hires and stating that the city wanted to contact the remaining people on the list to provide “as nearly as possible” an equal number. However, they added that the list provided by the Republicans includes “duplicate names” and “people who are already working as election inspectors in other jurisdictions.”
The Michigan Republican Party and the RNC sued Flint, saying his efforts to bring more Republican voters to his precincts were not enough. The lawsuit cited a state statute that required election boards to appoint “as nearly as possible” an equal number of poll workers from each major political party.
Flint won last night on the “standing” issue: Under state statute, the grievance process is available only to major-party county chairmen. The lawsuit avoided that requirement.
Although the case was dismissed on technical grounds, it marked an important milestone. The judge, who made the case very short, was not in favor of the case. Flint is enforcing the law now. And the standing parties will also face a tough sled if they file a similar lawsuit in the future.
Why did the GOP bother to bring this clearly meritless lawsuit here and now? We spoke with Michigan election expert Aghogho Edevibe, who told us that it’s common across Michigan for major Republican areas to have working-class Republican voters, and vice versa for Democratic areas.
Also, this case was brought up at the last minute because, Flint said in his court papers, “there is no time or manpower to do a day of election school without the opportunity” for new poll workers. And by targeting Flint, the GOP was taking on a city with a majority Democratic and black population. As Flint wrote, the consequences of “political theater” for ugly partisan ends cannot be avoided.
Nor do the GOP’s tough questions stop there. Michigan has been the target of the GOP’s so-called “precinct strategy.” It is designed to get more Republicans, including election deniers, into the voting system. In fact, the GOP secretary of state nominee, an outspoken election denier, is pushing another, but equally baseless, attack on Detroit’s election system. Given the circumstances, it’s fair to wonder if Flint’s effort was part of the GOP’s election-denying strategy.
Whatever the motivation, it was a failure.
These victories can provide relief to voters in Arizona, Michigan and across the nation. They demonstrate, as they did with challenges in our last election, that the courts will enforce the law to protect voting rights and the electoral system.
With the two cases described here – as happened in 2020 – the courts were a safeguard against attempts to undermine the elections. These cases suggest that the rule of law still works to protect our democracy against fear-mongers, election deniers and their ilk.
However, efforts to deny elections and intimidate voters are well organized in the United States. It is important that we continue to monitor legislative developments leading up to the midterm elections in order to preserve a tradition that all Americans should be proud of: free, fair, secure, and accurate elections.