A federal judge in Ohio has issued a restraining order barring Donald Trump’s campaign and Roger Stone’s Stop the Steal organization from intimidating voters or engaging in false “exit polling” efforts on Election Day. The ruling comes after a two-hour hearing in which lawyers from the Democratic Party of Ohio pressed the Trump campaign to defend the candidate’s repeated statements about voter fraud, and his calls for his supporters to watch the polls in “certain areas.”
“It’s another strong signal that courts this cycle aren’t going to sit back and take efforts to intimidate voters or to keep people from voting lightly,” said Michael Li, an attorney with the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School. “It may not deter one-off efforts, but people have been warned.”
The ruling says that “questioning, and training, organizing or deputizing persons to question voters at Ohio polling places... under the guise of the purported ‘exit polling’ or ‘citizen journalist’ operations organized and encouraged by Defendants Stone and Stop the Steal,” are banned.
It also blocks the groups from “engaging in any unauthorized ‘poll watching’ activities inside of polling places, within one hundred feet of polling places... or within ten feet of a voter standing in line” and bars them from harassing voters or distributing information regarding the illegality of voter fraud within that zone.
They also may not take pictures or record voters “at or around a polling place.”
The Trump campaign’s attorneys argued such a ruling was not necessary because the behavior they were accused of planning was already illegal, and the judge could simply issue an order to follow existing law. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge James Gwin declined this option, writing that “where there is a legitimate possibility that particularl laws may be imminently violated, ordering compliance with the laws is appropriate.”
David Becker, the executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, said he found it “compelling” that the court issued this type of order. “The prohibitions on activities by the Trump campaign and Mr. Stone are wide-ranging and specific, indicating to me that the court felt it was necessary to get to that level of specificity to enforce Ohio and federal law,” he said.
Stone responded to the ruling via his Twitter account: "Never served in the Ohio case against @StoptheSteal thus never afforded the chance to mount a legal defense. Fraud upon the Court by Dems".
The ruling also applies to “groups associated with the Clinton for Presidency campaign.” Rick Hasen noted on the Election Law Blog that this was a strange inclusion, as the groups associated with the Clinton campaign have not demonstrated an attempt to organize such acts. But Becker told me he views it as an attempt “to be as even handed and apolitical as possible, given this order comes right before a major election.”
“I don’t read it as having found any likelihood that the Clinton campaign or anyone other than the defendants in this case — minus the Ohio Republican Party — would engage in these prohibited activities,” he said. The Ohio Republican Party was left out of the order.
While some social media and experts alike took to immediately praising the ruling, Hasen was more hesitant. In his blog, Hasen said it is not clear if the order applies to activities nationwide or just in Ohio, and that the ruling “seems to be very broad indeed, such as prohibiting any photography of voters or their vehicles. Also, it bans ‘admonishing.’ That’s likely unconstitutionally vague, violating due process and the First Amendment,” he writes. While he acknowledges that these quick-turnaround cases are “sometimes sloppy,” Hasen writes that this one seems “especially” so.
The Sixth Circuit has reversed this decision. Read more about this decision at Rick Hasen's blog.
UPDATE #2 (11/6):