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Calling Trump a 'Clear Threat to Our Democracy,' Civil Rights Group Sues Admin. Over Voter Intimidation

"The court should protect the fundamental right to vote by blocking Trump's attempt to prevent a free and fair election."

People wait in line outside the Washington Park Library to cast their ballots on the first day of in-person early voting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on October 20, 2020. (Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP via Getty Images)

People wait in line outside the Washington Park Library to cast their ballots on the first day of in-person early voting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on October 20, 2020. (Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP via Getty Images)

Latino civic engagement organization Mi Familia Vota Education Fund and several individual voters on Wednesday sued President Donald Trump and members of his administration for voter intimidation in violation of federal law.

The lawsuit (pdf), filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, names Trump, Attorney General Bill Barr, and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf as defendants based on what the plaintiffs describe as their "violent suppression of public protests opposing police brutality, the encouragement of white supremacist 'vigilantes,' threats to send 'sheriffs' and other law enforcement to the polls, the undermining of mail-in voting, and the rejection of the peaceful transfer of power."

"Court intervention is now critical to stop this illegal voter intimidation and to protect the fundamental right to vote."
— Hector Sanchez Barba, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund

"Trump is a clear threat to our democracy," said Hector Sanchez Barba, the executive director of Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, in a statement released Wednesday by Free Speech for People, which serves as co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs. "He has terrorized the Latino community, and has brought our country to the brink of ruin."

"Now in an outrageous turn of events, he and his senior officials are intimidating voters," Sanchez Barba added. "Court intervention is now critical to stop this illegal voter intimidation and to protect the fundamental right to vote."

Ron Fein, legal director at Free Speech for People, echoed Sanchez Barba. "The court should protect the fundamental right to vote," Fein said, "by blocking Trump's attempt to prevent a free and fair election."

The lawsuit alleges that the Trump administration's aforementioned actions constitute illegal voter intimidation under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 as well as an "unconstitutional suppression of speech and votes under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments."

The plaintiffs accuse the Trump administration of a litany of crimes that undermine the ability of Americans to exercise their constitutional rights to democratic expression, from participating in peaceful demonstrations against police brutality to voting without fear of violent reprisal. 

While the nationwide demonstrations against police violence and racism that erupted following the late May murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis law enforcement have "remained overwhelmingly peaceful," the statement noted, "Trump has repeatedly referred to participants as 'looters' and 'anarchists.'"

Together with Barr and Wolf, Trump "has falsely referred to the decentralized 'Antifa' (anti-fascist) movement as a domestic terrorist organization," the statement said, despite the fact that it is the pro-Trump members of heavily armed, far-right paramilitaries, such as Kyle Rittenhouse, who have provoked violent, sometimes deadly, confrontations on the streets of U.S. cities. 

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Furthermore, "the administration's response, which has included the deployment of unidentified DHS agents illegally detaining protesters and passersby in Portland, Oregon and questioning organizers of other assemblies about their political beliefs," has suppressed citizens' constitutional right to protest. 

"Trump's deployment of federal law enforcement against assemblies of individuals perceived to be in opposition to him, coupled with his decision not to deploy federal law enforcement officials against assemblies of individuals perceived to support him, intimidates individuals who plan to express political opposition to Trump or vote against him," the complaint reads, "by communicating that Trump endorses physical violence against his political detractors."

Free Speech for People's statement further detailed numerous ways that Trump, who has repeatedly refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power in the event of an electoral loss, has attempted to sabotage the election:

As many states have expanded access to voting-by-mail in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Trump has repeatedly attacked and attempted to delegitimize the practice. He has publicly confirmed that his efforts to intimidate and coerce people not to vote by mail are subjectively motivated by the intent to harm his political opponents in the 2020 presidential election.

Trump megadonor and Postmaster Louis DeJoy, meanwhile, "initiated or oversaw drastic reductions to USPS staffing and service, limited the use of mail trucks, and removed hundreds of public mailboxes and postal facility sorting machines to undermine" the post office. 

Moreover, "those seeking to vote in person also face intimidation from Trump and his allies," given that the president "has called for armed military and law enforcement presence at polling stations in the name of preventing fraud, and encouraged supporters to serve as poll watchers for the campaign." 

The statement explained that among Trump's supporters are the Proud Boys, a white supremacist organization whom Trump publicly told to "stand by" during the first presidential debate last month. 

According to the lawsuit, "The pattern of conduct described above has had, as a foreseeable impact, an objective intimidating effect on eligible voters."

The plaintiffs allege that "many Americans have been intimidated by this conduct... to the extent that it has discouraged their plans to register to vote, to vote, or to conduct voter registration, persuasion, or mobilization activities at public assemblies."

The civil rights group is asking the court for a preliminary injunction restraining Trump, Barr, and Wolf from continuing to engage in voter intimidation in violation of multiple laws. 

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