The RNC Is Inflating Its Legal Attack on Voting Rights

Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel speaks before a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by NBC News, Nov. 8, 2023, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County in Miami. Former NBC News “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd criticized his network Sunday, March 24, 2024, for hiring former Republican National Committee head McDaniel as a paid contributor, saying on the air that many NBC journalists are uncomfortable with the decision. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)

Ronna McDaniel, the former chair of the Republican National Committee, went on NBC News’ Meet the Press last week to tout the RNC’s recent achievements in election litigation. 

She bragged that the Republican committee is currently  “in 78 lawsuits” related to the election. Just a few weeks earlier, one of McDaniel’s replacements and current RNC co-chair Lara Trump also mentioned that the RNC is involved in 78 lawsuits aimed at “protecting the vote” as we head into the thick of election season. 

In recent weeks, this number has appeared in various media outlets — from NBC News and POLITICO to Fox News — but had not been publicly substantiated with the RNC’s internal tracking until today. 

Over the past few years, the Republican National Committee has bragged about its efforts to roll back voting rights across the country. A recent RNC-produced memo obtained by Democracy Docket reveals that the RNC is inflating its involvement in anti-voting lawsuits nationwide. Though the committee claims to have “engaged” in 78 lawsuits across 23 states in the 2023-2024 election cycle, a thorough review of the RNC’s memo reveals a far lower number.

Among the lawsuits that the RNC takes credit for are various legal efforts to implement strict voter ID laws, restrict ballot access, limit who is allowed to vote, purge voter rolls and thwart mail-in voting. The memo also highlights the RNC’s efforts in “recruiting and training tens of thousands of poll watchers and poll workers” for the upcoming election. 

Though the RNC claims involvement in 78 active lawsuits, some of those examples provided in the memo don’t technically qualify as being involved in an active lawsuit. The campaign arm of the Republican Party has not defined what it means by “involvement” and has even claimed to at least one news outlet that it has “filed 78 lawsuits across 23 states,” a much more proactive posture that tells a different story than the one laid out in the memo. While the memo was published as of mid-February, the document lists 18 different states, a significantly lower number than the 23 the RNC has been touting.

In analyzing the memo, it’s clear that the RNC includes closed cases and amicus briefs against the efforts to disqualify former President Donald Trump from the ballot in various states as litigation they are involved in. The Republican committee seems to count public comment on non litigation-related state election policies and public records requests toward that 78 lawsuit figure. In an email, a spokesperson for the RNC told Democracy Docket that this is not a “comprehensive list of our cases, nor did the memo say it was.”

Democracy Docket’s own litigation tracker has found the RNC to only be involved in 28 active election-related lawsuits as of today. Among those lawsuits includes one they filed in New York challenging the state’s new mail-in voting law that lets voters send in their ballots by mail during the early voting period. And in Mississippi, where the RNC sued over a law allowing mail-in ballots postmarked on or before Election Day to be counted so long as they are received within five days of the election. 

Still, the memo gives an inside overview into the legal strategy and scope of the RNC’s efforts to thwart the right to vote in any way they can. In Arizona, for example, the committee claims it is involved in a lawsuit defending a state law that requires purging voters from a permanent mail-in ballot list if they haven’t voted in two consecutive elections. The memo also claims that the RNC is involved in oversight to purge voters from voting rolls in Michigan and Nevada. Only recently did their involvement in these states become lawsuits, filed on March 13 and March 18, respectively.

Another major focus of the RNC’s legal strategy is to limit mail-in and absentee voting. “Mail voting is more complicated than voting in person. That means there must be safeguards in place to ensure that the process is administered with integrity,” the memo reads. “When states try to circumvent or ignore laws on the books, the RNC steps in.” According to the memo, the RNC is involved in litigation in New York, North Carolina, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin to limit absentee voting. 

In New York, the RNC is one of a number of Republican plaintiffs challenging the state’s new mail-in voting law, which permits voters to mail in their ballot during the early voting period. The RNC and its fellow plaintiffs argue that the law violates the state constitution because it creates two classes of voters who can utilize absentee ballots. A trial court dismissed the lawsuit on Feb. 5, 2024, but the RNC appealed and the litigation is ongoing. 

The memo, which was last updated on Feb. 8, 2024, also explains how the RNC plans to ramp up its efforts in election-related litigation. The committee claims that it has launched a “full-time, permanent Election Integrity department” in this election cycle that is “working around the clock to expand and fine-tune our efforts on this important front.” This is in line with what the RNC’s new chair, Michael Whatley, is focused on with the direction of the GOP’s largest committee. Despite mass layoffs at the RNC, one of Whatley’s first moves as new chair was to hire three high-profile attorneys to focus on “election integrity.” 

And the memo spells out exactly what it plans to do with those recent additions. “With a robust staff of election integrity-focused lawyers, continued offensive and defensive lawfare efforts, and a nationwide political infrastructure that will put poll watchers and poll workers in the field, the RNC’s commitment to protecting the vote has never been stronger,” the memo reads.

Read the memo here.

This post was updated on Monday, April 1 at 3:35 p.m. EDT to reflect comments from an RNC spokesperson.