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Democrat's Voter Intimidation Case Goes Before Federal Court Friday

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Donald Trump has been urging his supporters to keep an eye out for voter fraud on Tuesday. Today, a federal court in New Jersey hears arguments from Democrats that the Republican National Committee is involved in poll-monitoring efforts that are aimed at intimidating minorities. Democrats say this violates a decade-old consent decree prohibiting Republicans from those activities. NPR's Pam Fessler reports.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Here's the problem for the Republican Party.

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DONALD TRUMP: Go down to certain areas and watch and study and make sure other people don't come in and vote five times.

FESSLER: That's presidential nominee Donald Trump urging supporters to monitor the polls in, quote, "certain areas" of Pennsylvania - widely interpreted to mean Philadelphia, where Republicans have long suspected voter fraud.

Trump has also been recruiting volunteers to observe voting in other states to, quote, "stop crooked Hillary from rigging this election." But this is the kind of aggressive poll-watching that the Republican National Committee is prohibited from doing under a 1982 consent decree.

It was the result of a case in which Republicans were accused of intimidating minority voters in New Jersey. Democrats say the RNC is now in violation of that consent decree. Rick Hasen, a law professor from the University of California, Irvine, says that's one of the things a federal judge in New Jersey has to decide.

RICK HASEN: There's the question of whether they're working together or not. And there's a question of whether or not whatever anyone's planning on doing would violate this order.

FESSLER: The RNC says it's not involved in any poll-monitoring activities and that it's not responsible for anything being organized by the Trump campaign or by state Republican parties, which aren't covered by the consent decree.

The GOP argues in court documents that Democrats have no proof that the party's conspiring with the Trump campaign to intimidate minority voters or that it has deterred anyone from voting. It's not clear what impact a court decision will have in the final few days of the campaign. But Hasen says the lawsuit might serve another purpose for Democrats.

HASEN: Sometimes, the reason you go to court is to get the defendant on record to say, I won't be doing X. And that is valuable in and of itself.

FESSLER: And in at least one state, Nevada, the Trump campaign reminded its poll watchers yesterday to make sure they follow the rules, which, for the most part, means they shouldn't interfere with voters and should report any irregularities they see to election officials. Pam Fessler, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.