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Donald Trump tried to sue a Nevada county that let polls stay open so people could vote

The polling place in question was a Mexican supermarket in a mostly-Latino neighborhood.

Nevada Voters Head To The Polls During State's Early Voting
People wait in line to vote early at Downtown Summerlin on October 26, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Voters in Clark County are voting early at a record pace this year ahead of the November 8 general election.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Donald Trump often threatens to sue people and doesn’t follow through. But apparently, allowing too many Latinos to vote is serious enough to justify an actual lawsuit.

Trump’s campaign sued the Clark County, Nevada registrar on Tuesday for allowing the polls to stay open on the last day of early voting (November 4) so that everyone in line could vote. The suit comes after Trump and the Nevada GOP chair both pointed to reports of a Mexican supermarket, where polls stayed open until 10 to accommodate 2-hour-long lines, as evidence that Democrats were deliberately keeping polls open to accommodate “a certain group.”

The lawsuit got rejected in a quick and intense hearing. But the campaign might try to pursue its allegations against Clark County by other means.

You’d think that seeing long lines of people exercising their right to vote would be inspiring to a presidential candidate. But apparently, Donald Trump sees them as a threat.

Polling places stayed open in Nevada after a last-minute Latino voter surge

On Friday, the last day of early voting in Nevada, the Cardenas Market (a Mexican supermarket) on Bonanza Road in Las Vegas was supposed to be open for early voting until 8 pm. But as evening approached, hundreds of voters (who happened to be overwhelmingly Latino) were standing in a line that had snaked through the supermarket and outside to the sidewalk. Voters were waiting two hours to vote. And more kept coming.

So the Clark County Elections Department kept the polls open until 10, as a way to ensure that everyone standing in line at 8pm would be able to vote early. “We will not turn people away,” a spokesperson said.

Within 24 hours, the extension of voting hours in Cardenas had been taken up by Republicans in the state (and Donald Trump himself) as evidence that the state of Nevada had tried to rig the election by allowing people special voting privileges because they belonged to “a certain group.” And on Election Day, the Trump campaign filed a lawsuit against Clark County for extending polling hours.

It’s interesting (though perhaps not surprising) that the Trump campaign’s first official lawsuit over its longstanding claims of “rigged elections” comes from the same incident that’s inspired the most racially explicit accusations of fraud from Republicans. And it’s another reminder that large groups of nonwhite citizens exercising their right to vote is, to some people, an inherently suspicious act.

Election officials are required by law to keep the polls open so that everyone still in line at closing time may vote

The Trump campaign is alleging that Clark County illegally extended voting hours instead of closing the polls at 8pm as they were supposed to do.

Some tweets from journalists and Democratic staffers from Friday night refer to polling hours being “extended.” But Clark County denies it officially extended voting hours at all. It claims it simply kept the polls open until everyone in line had voted — as it’s required to do by law.

“We did not extend the closing time,” Clark County spokesperson Dan Kulin told the Daily Beast. “We keep processing voters as long as they’re there.” In fact, the Cardenas supermarket wasn’t even the last polling place to close (a polling place in nearby Henderson stayed open until 10:10).

Nevada law is extremely clear on the notion that all registered voters in line when the polls close is eligible to cast a ballot. But it’s equally clear that the polls are supposed to be closed after “all such voters” have been let inside:

If at the hour of closing the polls there are any registered voters waiting to vote, the doors of the polling place must be closed after all such voters have been admitted to the polling place. Voting must continue until those voters have voted.

The way that election law expert Ned Foley of Ohio State University interprets this, it’s a hard cutoff: no one can get in line after the official poll closing time. But the way Clark County interprets it, according to Kulin, is that the polls are supposed to stay open until the line diminishes — until all registered voters have been let inside.

“If there’s a line when closing time comes, we just keep processing voters until there’s no more line,” he told the AP. “We’re flexible because we want people to vote.”

It’s not clear whether election officials at Cardenas actually allowed anyone to get in line after 8pm. If they did, that might be cause for concern. But none of the news reports suggest that happened: the line at 8pm was 2 hours long, and the last person voted at Cardenas around 10.

The Trump campaign, however, isn’t just alleging that people were allowed to get in line after 8pm. It’s alleging that the county “intentionally coordinated with Democratic activists in order to skew the vote unlawfully in favor of Democratic candidates.”

There’s no evidence of this whatsoever — and a judge who heard the lawsuit on Tuesday was so perplexed by the claim that she asked the Trump campaign’s lawyer, “What are you asking for?”

But it plays into a longstanding belief among some Republicans that Democrats are using nonwhite voters as shock troops to rig elections — implying that masses of nonwhite voters would never show up on their own.

“You feel free right now? Think this is a free or easy election?”

Donald Trump held a rally in Reno on Saturday, where he was introduced by the head of the Nevada GOP, Michael McDonald. McDonald — who attested earlier this year that his party had “a great relationship with all minority communities” — used his speech to warn attendees that free elections in America were under threat because “a certain group” had been given extra time to vote

“Last night, in Clark County, they kept a poll open till 10 o’clock at night so a certain group could vote. It wasn’t in an area that normally has high transition. The polls are supposed to close at 7. This was kept open till 10. Yeah, you feel free right now? Think this is a free or easy election?”

This is wrong on the facts (the polling place was supposed to close at 8). It’s wrong on the merits (the polling place wasn’t kept open deliberately because of who was trying to vote). It’s wrong on the law.

Most importantly, of course, it’s implying that there ought to be something inherently suspicious about a polling place that usually doesn’t attract a lot of voters attracting a lot of voters — and that it’s especially suspicious when those voters are members of “a certain group.”

This isn’t new. It’s the core of the myth of voter fraud — that nonwhite voters don’t have any agency or investment in the election of their own, and that they’re instead being used as pawns by Democrats to create illegitimate majorities. This is the logic behind many forms of voting restriction (like the law in Georgia being used to prosecute African-Americans who drove relatives to the polls).

Because Donald Trump has never seen a subtext he can’t make text, he claimed outright that the voting had been “rigged” in “certain key Democratic polling locations in Clark County.” He said the polls had been kept open so that Democrats could bus in people to vote against him.

There were no buses at Cardenas Market. What Trump is referring to, instead, is a persistent meme among a certain strain of Republican: that Democrats bring buses full of unauthorized immigrants to polling places to cast illegal votes. (In some versions of the meme, these immigrants are being imported directly from Mexico.)

It’s an easy slippage for Trump to invoke: many of his followers tend to conflate “Latino” with “immigrant,” and “immigrant” with “illegal immigrant.” But the reason it’s persisted so long — and the reason it could so easily be used to turn “Democrats allowed a certain group to vote” into “Democrats brought a certain group to vote” — is the assumption that nonwhite Americans don’t care enough to vote, and wouldn’t show up at the polls if they weren’t being used as Democratic shock troops.

Nonwhite Americans are working twice as hard for democracy to get half as much respect

Logically, of course, it makes perfect sense that Latino voters would be particularly motivated to turn out to defeat a candidate who’s spent the last 17 months insulting them. But that appears not to be the way that McDonald and Trump think about it.

Instead, they persist in believing that nonwhite voters (at least the ones who don’t support them) have neither a mind of their own nor a genuine stake in democracy; that they would never take the volition to show up and represent their own interests, and instead dumbly vote the party line.

There is no way for nonwhite Americans to participate in democracy in a “legitimate” way under this logic.

When nonwhite Americans don’t vote — or even vote in slightly lower levels in one election than the last — they’re blamed for apathy. If too many of them vote, it’s evidence of fraud.

When nonwhite Americans protest peacefully, those protests are either ignored or covered as if they’re violent. When they protest disruptively, they’re regarded as dangerous thugs.

When nonwhite Americans don’t assimilate into their communities, they must be a terroristic “fifth column”; when they show a desire to assimilate, they must be trying to cover up their terroristic aims.

The line at Cardenas Market wouldn’t have been as long as it was if early voting hadn’t ended the Friday before the election. But Nevada, like many states, restricts early voting the weekend before the election, which has the impact of making it harder for people who work during the week to vote.

Many Republicans wave off accusations of “voter suppression” when this sort of thing happens, saying that if people really care about democracy enough to vote, they will find a way to do so. Not “caring” enough to get around an impossible work schedule apparently disqualifies you from democracy. But what we learned this weekend at Cardenas Market (once again) is that caring too much is suspicious, too.

UPDATE: This post originally claimed, based on contemporaneous reporting and social media, that hours had been “officially extended” on Friday night. Later reports from Clark County officials have made it clear that no official extension was granted, or was necessary.

Watch: Want to rig the election? Good luck.

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