One of the unlikeliest heroes in the 2016 presidential election is a county judge in Nevada.
Judge Gloria J. Sturman of Clark County heard a last-minute lawsuit filed by the Trump campaign Tuesday against the county’s elections office, alleging that Clark County officials had illegally allowed polls to stay open on the last day of early voting in a mostly Latino neighborhood.
The lawsuit is the latest evolution in the Trump campaign’s ongoing claim that the election is somehow being rigged against Donald Trump, and its continued scrutiny of nonwhite voters in the name of fraud. But on Tuesday, the campaign’s claims came up against reality — and Judge Sturman.
And she wasn’t shy about telling them, directly, that what they wanted to do flew in the face of civic values: allowing people to vote, preserving the secret ballot, and encouraging people to participate in democracy. “I am not going to expose people doing their civic duty,” she said, “to help their fellow citizens vote.”
“Do you watch Twitter?”
The Trump campaign tried to get Sturman to order the county registrar to keep records of who, exactly, had been working the polls at a Mexican supermarket on the last night of early voting and decided to keep the polls open until 10 to accommodate a two-hour-long line of likely voters.
It’s not even clear that anyone in Clark County broke the law at all by keeping the polls open — in fact, the lawyer for the registrar’s office explained patiently that during early voting, unlike Election Day, the county has always allowed people to get in line and vote as long as a line exists (even if the official poll closing time has already passed).
But the Trump campaign jumped right to the conclusion that there was deliberate coordination between Clark County poll workers and “Democratic operatives” to keep voting open illegally, and it asked Sturman to help it figure out who those poll workers were.
In the midst of a presidential campaign that’s been marked by online harassment — particularly by Trump supporters — making that information public had huge downsides. And Sturman understood exactly what that would entail.
The Trump campaign wants to make names of Nevada poll workers public. Judge's response: pic.twitter.com/tes99IMbbH— Deadspin (@Deadspin) November 8, 2016
LAWYER: There will be no harassment—
JUDGE STURMAN: How can you tell me that? Do you watch Twitter? Have you watched any cable news show? There are internet — you know, the vernacular, trolls — who get this information and harass people who just want to help their fellow citizens vote. Why would I order them to make available to you information about people who work at polls when it’s not already a public requirement to do so, so that those people can be harassed for doing their civic duty?
The rest of the campaign’s requests didn’t fare any better. At one point, the campaign attempted to ask Clark County to separate out votes cast in any given race by people who voted at the Mexican supermarket where polls had been kept open — so that they would be discardable if the voting was found to be illegal.
Sturman pointed out that this would require figuring out whom individuals had voted for — which happens to violate the principle of the secret ballot. It would be impossible, because the voting system is designed to make it impossible, to figure out whom someone voted for and then throw out that person’s vote.
Clark Co says it's impossible to "segregate" votes just from Cardenas - all early vote records were combined to protect secret ballot @KTNV— Tom George (@TheTomGeorge) November 8, 2016
Sturman reminded the Trump campaign that the right to vote is serious business
The hearing itself was fairly technical. But what made it remarkable was that Judge Sturman understood the subtext — and made it as clear as she could that she found it distasteful.
The Trump campaign’s lawsuit against Clark County comes after months of claims that Democrats would try to rig the election in “certain areas” — specifically “inner cities.” On Saturday, the Nevada GOP chair accused Clark County of keeping the polls open at the Cardenas supermarket specifically so that “a certain group” could vote — and then Trump himself accused Democrats of busing in extra voters to the Cardenas location after closing.
The Trump campaign, to its questionable credit, didn’t make those claims in its lawsuit. But it’s hard not to see the lawsuit as the culmination of several months of growing concern that Democrats were going to rig the election by bringing nonwhite voters to the polls.
Sturman didn’t explicitly call out the Trump campaign for suppressing voters. But she made it clear at every turn that she felt citizens had the right to vote, and that it was a good thing the county government allowed them to do so — and that trying to keep citizens from voting was wrong.
“I am not going to expose people doing their civic duty to help their fellow citizens vote — the right of a citizen in this country,” she emphasized.
After several weeks of concern about voter intimidation and suppression — and after months and months of a presidential campaign that has often been about whether some Americans should come under more scrutiny — it was refreshing to hear someone in power defend civic engagement on its own terms.
Sturman made it clear to Trump’s team that if they wanted to cast aspersions on people for voting, or helping others vote, they’d better make a good argument for why. And they didn’t.