With a war chest of $20 million at its disposal, the Republican National Committee’s legal team has started to take action — and is poised to do more — against voting laws and policies that they view as unconstitutional and potentially damaging to the President’s prospects of winning.
“The game plan is to fight at every turn,” a senior campaign official said of the strategy.
They’ve made it a top priority and they are willing to put forward whatever resources necessary, including expanding the budget for such battles. Those resources have positioned the party to be able to file lawsuits on a moment’s notice and respond to changing policies, which are occurring more rapidly as states gear up to hold elections amid the coronavirus pandemic. The RNC, the Trump campaign and state parties are working together to ensure that state officials are prepared to act quickly, should the need arise.
Among the party’s biggest concerns are moves by states to send official ballots to all registered voters unsolicited, RNC chief counsel Justin Riemer said.
“As you can see from our ongoing litigation, it is of paramount concern. As many experts have warned, most states are not ready to flip a switch to all vote-by-mail,” Riemer said. Currently, eight states and Washington, DC, are conducting this type of election come November: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and Washington.
“Not only does it invite fraud and needlessly delay election results, it also risks disenfranchising voters and causing complete chaos for November,” Riemer said.
While Riemer said they are committed to filing lawsuits when they deem them necessary, their legal team is in place to be ready to respond to legal action taken by Democrats as well.
“You can guarantee the Democrats will continue to file additional frivolous lawsuits seeking to strike down commonsense and bipartisan laws protecting the integrity of our elections,” Riemer said. “Republicans will sue if and when election officials break the law and if legislatures pass 11th hour unconstitutional laws.”
Chris Meagher, the deputy communications director for the Democratic National Committee, knocked Trump and the RNC, saying it was “crystal clear” that they were “going to do everything they can to block access to voting.”
“Given Trump’s failed response to this pandemic, how he’s tanked the economy, and how he’s out of touch with reality, that’s the only way they can win,” Meagher said. “But we will fight back against their un-democratic GOP tactics, either through litigation or our on-the-ground voter protection infrastructure, to do every thing we can to make sure every single eligible voter can exercise their constitutional right to make their voice heard.”
In addition to concerns about the expansion of mail-in voting, Republicans are also very worried about how those ballots will be counted. They’ve raised alarms about the slow counting process in New York’s recent primary, where a surge in mail-in voting overloaded the system, leading to intervention by a federal court and a weeks-long delay in results. Trump has called the primary a “total disaster” and Republican officials have pointed to the primary as a precursor to November.
Additionally, some states are limiting the number of in-person voting locations. Riemer said his team has paid close attention to the decisions made at the local level and believes that a lack of polling locations could pose problems.
“State and local election jurisdictions are inviting disaster, including long lines, by failing to open enough polling places both during early voting and on Election Day,” Riemer said.
The legal work the RNC has planned before the election is only part of the equation. They are carefully laying the groundwork to take action in November, as ballots are counted and races in each state are decided. Both parties have taken steps to be much more prepared for post-election fallout since the Florida recount of 2000. “The Trump campaign and Republican Party will have a robust operation in place to ensure that ballots are counted lawfully. These efforts include a robust poll watching operation and the retention of lawyers nationwide to ensure the counting process is conducted lawfully and orderly,” Riemer said.
But not all Republicans want to wage war on mail-in voting. Over the weekend, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said he was not concerned about mail-in voting in his state. And on Wednesday, one Senate GOP leader argued that Republicans should instead be encouraging voters to use the method in order to compete in a consequential election that will determine control of Congress and the White House.
“Mail-in voting has been used in a lot of places for a long time,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said. “And honestly, we got a lot of folks, as you know, who are investing heavily to try to win that war. It’s always a war too for mail-in ballots. Both sides compete and it’s always an area where I think our side — at least in my experience — has done pretty well.”
And earlier this week, a campaign by Republican officials and lawmakers in Florida to explain that high vote-by-mail turnout is a key to Republicans winning there led Trump himself to reverse course
on mail-in voting in the Sunshine State.
“In the case of Florida they’ve done a great job, they’ve had tremendous success with it, but they’ve been doing this over many years and they’ve made it really terrific,” the President said at a Tuesday evening press briefing. “So for Florida, you can mail in your ballot, you don’t have to go.”