This year, votes cast in Ohio may depend on the last-minute battle to thwart voter intimidation from the Trump campaign.
On Sunday, without explanation, a federal court overturned a lower court’s temporary restraining order against the Trump campaign, initially issued Friday out of concern that Donald Trump and supporters like the Stop the Steal coalition were conspiring to intimidate voters on Election Day.
Hours later on Sunday evening, with less than 48 hours until Election Day, the Ohio Democratic Party issued an emergency request to Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan to reinstate the original injunction because the Sixth Circuit failed to review documents from the district court, suggesting its decision “has no basis in law.”
The concerns raised by the Ohio Democrats aren’t unfounded. For more than three decades, long before Trump was the Republican Party’s nominee, the Republican National Committee was bound by a federal consent decree barring it from voter intimidation tactics it used to stop voters of color from casting ballots in New Jersey.
But over the past month, voter intimidation rhetoric has steadily followed the Trump campaign, which isn’t bound by the decree. The campaign has been pushing supporters to monitor polls in “certain areas,” a message that has only amplified rigged election conspiracy theories.
These “certain areas” are ones with high concentrations of voters of color, who are also, especially this year, more likely to be Democrats. And if this isn’t clear from Trump’s dog-whistle politicking, his supporters have noted the racial targets explicitly.
Steve Webb, a 61-year-old Trump supporter from a Cincinnati, Ohio, suburb, told Matt Viser and Tracy Jan at the Boston Globe that he plans to engage in “racial profiling” in hopes of making these voters “a little bit nervous.” Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, and leaders of the alt-right movement, including former KKK grand wizard David Duke (who is also running for Louisiana State Senate), have stated plainly that they plan to monitor “some of the more inner-city areas.”
The stakes are high in Ohio. African-American voter turnout has been lower in Ohio, in part, because the state cut early voting opportunities. And while Latinos make up only 2.2 percent of Ohio voters, Latino voters nationally overwhelmingly favor Clinton and could help swing the state. A CBS News poll on Sunday put Clinton and Trump in a dead heat, with Trump slightly edging out Clinton among likely voters at 46 percent and 45 percent, respectively.
Meanwhile, as Vox’s Dara Lind has noted, one of the dangerous aspects of the Trump campaign is that it’s “opened the door for someone, somewhere, to take democracy into their own hands.”
On the eve of Election Day, people of color face a very real threat to their safety for simply exercising their constitutional right to vote in key swing states like Ohio. How and if the courts ultimately decide to protect them could determine the state’s election.