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Opinion

Trump Official Reportedly Admits to ‘Voter Suppression.’ Is That Even Legal?

Donald Trump via a katz/ShutterstockDonald Trump‘s campaign appears to be walking a thin line between effective campaigning and illegal activity. On Wednesday, the Democratic National Committee filed a motion in federal court against the Republican National Committee, alleging that Trump’s camp was engaging in scare tactics that violated a consent decree between the two parties. Then on Thursday, a Bloomberg report quoted a senior Trump campaign official as saying, “We have three major voter suppression operations under way,” as part of their strategy of decreasing support for Hillary Clinton.

The phrase “voter suppression” sure sounds scary and evil. And when taken in conjunction with the DNC’s claim that Trump was getting his followers to watch polling sites in minority areas, it sounds like it could be illegal. But the strategy that was described in the Bloomberg report paints a different picture. For sure, it specifies how Trump’s campaign is looking at particular demographics (white liberals, young females, and black people, to be precise), but the tactics don’t appear all that nefarious. At least, not by today’s low standard.

The report says that Trump’s strategy is to get key populations to turn away from Clinton by showing how she doesn’t represent their best interests. To get Bernie Sanders supporters to back away from the Democratic candidate, Trump’s campaign plays up revelations made public by Wikileaks and Clinton’s past support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. To turn off young women, Trump brings up Bill Clinton‘s alleged sexual misconduct and Hillary’s alleged response to his accusers. To dissuade black voters, Trump will repeat the notion that Hillary Clinton once referred to black men as “super predators” (it should be noted that in that 1996 speech, Clinton wasn’t referring to black people, but to kids in gangs who she described as “the kinds of kids that are called ‘super predators'”).

What Trump’s aide described as “voter suppression” really sounds like “voter discouragement.” It doesn’t seem so much like they’re looking to bully or defraud people into not being able to vote. They’re looking to convince them that Trump’s opponent is so bad that even if the voters don’t like Trump, they’ll just stay home instead of voting against him. As law professor Rick Hasen says on his Election Law Blog, “what the campaign describes may be odious, but it is not illegal.” While Hasen acknowledges that any allegedly planned poll watching may pose legal problems, “[t]here is no law against negative campaigning, or discouraging people from voting through legal means.”

Of course, when the only defense of a presidential campaign strategy is that it’s not technically illegal, it doesn’t say much about our political climate.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of the author. 

[Image via a katz/Shutterstock]

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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