AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
For more on this and a little historical context is Domenico Montanaro of NPR's political team. Welcome to the studio.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good afternoon.
CORNISH: The Trump campaign says this isn't about stopping voters from voting but preventing voter fraud. What's the distinction you're hearing?
MONTANARO: Well, it's really an interesting way to frame this because the RNC is not allowed to engage in what's known as ballot security measures. In other words, they can't show up at polls and challenge the eligibility of voters. This all dates back to the 1970s in a legal case that was brought when there were claims of voter intimidation in particular in black and Latino neighborhoods in New Jersey. Specifically there were off-duty police officers who were hired by the RNC to patrol these polling places. They called themselves the National Ballot Security Task Force.
Voters complained, though, that these men were harassing voters and poll workers. They were disrupting operations at polling places, stopping and questioning voters, even refusing to permit some voters in, forcibly restraining some poll workers from even assisting other voters.
The Republicans agreed to stop doing this under a 1982 legal agreement that is still in force today. We should note that the RNC has challenged this as recently as 2013 and lost.
CORNISH: As we heard Pam say, there isn't widespread evidence of in-person voter fraud. So why is this an issue?
MONTANARO: Well, look; you know, there's an old truism in politics. When you're complaining about whether an election will be rigged or the polls are skewed, the debates aren't fair, the media's not doing their job, you know, you're usually losing. And that's true on both sides.
And pointing to potential voter fraud is not new. We saw John McCain do this in 2008 when he talked about ACORN, which is a community activist group, and whether or not they were in a widespread way committing voter fraud when they were trying to register voters. And Bob Dole even accused Bill Clinton of trying to legalize immigrants in the U.S. who are in the U.S. illegally so that he could pick up more votes.
But how leaders handle this stuff is really important. And if you look back at Dole on the night that he congratulated Bill Clinton on winning re-election, there were a lot of anti-Clinton boos that came up in the crowd when he said that he had congratulated him. But here's how Dole handled that.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BOB DOLE: And I have said...
DOLE: I've said repeatedly - wait.
DOLE: Wait a minute. I've said repeatedly in this campaign that the president is my opponent, not my enemy.
CORNISH: Well, to that point, if people do question the legitimacy of the election results, what are the implications of that?
MONTANARO: Look; this strikes at the heart of a democracy. Peaceful transitions are key to the American republic. I mean going all the way back in our history, there's certainly been lots of contentious elections on the right and on the left. You saw it in 2000 when George W. Bush won by more than just 500 votes or so in Florida, Al Gore accepted the Supreme Court's decision even though he had won the popular vote. People even credit Gore for that being the best speech he'd ever given because it did bring some unity.
But in the last 15, 16 years since that case, you've seen a lot of instances where protocols have to have decreased. You saw the you lie moment in Congress. You see the questioning of presidents overseas when it comes to foreign policy. A lot of the old, standard politeness ways have sort of gone by the wayside. Where have we come in the last 16 years? We're going to see what that tone will be like in the fall depending on who wins or who loses and how they decide to say whether or not they won fair and square.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks so much.
MONTANARO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.