Asian American Groups File Brief Against PA's Discriminatory Voter ID Law

Friday, Aug 30, 2013

August 30, 2013 -- The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) and the Asian Pacific American Bar Association (APABA) of Pennsylvania filed an amicus "friend of the court" brief in the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's restrictive voter ID requirement in Applewhite v. Pennsylvania. The amicus brief was prepared by AALDEF and pro-bono counsel White & Case LLP based on findings from AALDEF's election monitoring data from the 2012 and prior elections.

"Pennsylvania's voter ID law, which targets naturalized citizens and limited English proficient Americans, disenfranchises Asian Americans at a disproportionately high rate," said Glenn Magpantay, Director of the Democracy Program at AALDEF. "Moreover, Asian Americans have been left out of state efforts to educate the public about the new voting laws. Pennsylvania has made it apparent that it is unable to apply this restrictive law equally to all voters. As voting is our most fundamental right, the Court must strike down this law."

Under the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's voter ID law, all eligible voters must present government-issued photo identification in order to vote. AALDEF's amicus brief demonstrates that this law provides poll workers with unbridled discretion and unclear standards, which will continue to lead to overt or implicit discrimination against Asian Americans at the polls. 

In the 2012 general election, even though poll workers were permitted to ask all voters for identification, the percentage of Asian American voters that were required to show ID was disproportionately higher. For example, according to AALDEF's poll monitoring, 26 out of 52 respondents (50%) in Philadelphia and 21 out of 30 (70%) of respondents in Upper Darby were required to show ID, even though they were not first-time voters.

AALDEF's amicus brief further contends that the Commonwealth has made no significant attempt to provide Asian American citizens of limited English proficiency with information about the new voting law. In 2012, 53% of Asian Americans voters polled in Pennsylvania spoke English less than "very well," compared to 37% of all Asian Americans nationally. Nonetheless, the Commonwealth's efforts to educate limited English proficient voters have thus far been insufficient. As a result, there is a signficant possibility that these citizens will not have their votes counted.  

Finally, AALDEF's amicus brief contends that the voter identification requirements make it disproportionately burdensome for naturalized citizens to obtain valid photo IDs prior to an election day. Under PA's new voter ID law, naturalized citizens who are not possession of their naturalization certificates (either because they were lost, damaged, or stolen) may be prevented from voting, given the length of time and cost required to obtain a replacement certificate from the federal immigration authorities. 

"Asian Americans voters in Pennsylvania remain adversely impacted by PA's restrictive Voter ID law," said Tsiwen Law, Local Counsel to APABA-PA. "Thousands of Asian American voters have not applied for the Commonwealth's voter-only ID in the mistaken belief that the documents they have will be accepted at the polls. The Commonwealth has done little to educate voters with limited English proficiency. As a result, Asian American voters hold the fewest Pennsylvania Voter-only ID cards. With the Commonwealth unwillling to undertake the massive education needed to insure that voters can exercise their constitutionally protected right to vote, the correct solution is for the Commonwealth Court to permanently enjoin the PA Voter ID Law."

Download the brief >>

Contact:
Ujala Sehgal
212.966.5932 ex.217
usehgal@aaldef.org