Asian American Groups Rejoice Ruling Striking Down PA's Discriminatory Voter ID Law

Friday, Jan 17, 2014

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) and the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Pennsylvania (APABA-PA) applaud the ruling by a state judge that has struck down the law requiring Pennsylvania's voters to show photo identification at the polls. Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley said this requirement of Pennsylvania's2012 voter identification law places an unreasonable burden on the fundamental right to vote.

AALDEF and APABA-PA filed an amicus 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, APABA-PA, and pro-bono counsel White & Case LLP, and filed in conjunction with local counsel, Tsiwen Law, based on findings from AALDEF's election monitoring data from the 2012 and prior elections.

"This decision is a victory for equal voting rights," said Glenn Magpantay, Director of the Democracy Program at AALDEF. "Pennsylvania's Asian American population was disenfranchised by the state's voter ID law, which targeted populations such as naturalized citizens and limited English proficient voters which are less likely to have the approved forms of photo ID. Voter ID laws like Pennsylvania's cannot be equally applied to all voters, and the Court correctly struck down the law."

Under the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's voter ID law, all eligible voters were required to present government-issued photo identification in order to vote. AALDEF and APABA-PA's amicus brief demonstrated that this law provided poll workers with unbridled discretion and unclear standards, which led to overt or implicit discrimination against Asian Americans at the polls.

"How appropriate that on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the judge struck down a discriminatory law that disenfranchised entire segments of the population," said Louis O'Neill, pro bono counsel at White & Case and one of the attorneys who worked on the amicus brief. "The right to vote is a fundamental right of every citizen of this country, and all Pennsylvanians will be able to continue to exercise that right that so many have fought for."

For example, 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.

The amicus brief further contended that the Commonwealth 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 American 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 were far from sufficient. As a result, there was a significant possibility that these citizens would not have had their votes counted.

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

"We are pleased that the Commonwealth Court, in reaching its conclusion, recognized that Pennsylvania's voter ID law did not further the goal of 'a free and fair election,' which voting laws are meant to protect," said Rahat N. Babar, APABA-PA President.

"Numerous other states have passed or are considering similar voter ID laws," said Jerry Vattamala, AALDEF Democracy Program staff attorney. "State legislatures have created a phantom problem of voter fraud. The intent of these voter ID laws is clear, given their adverse impacts on communities of color. We hope that other discriminatory voter ID laws are likewise struck down."

An appeal by the Commonwealth to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is anticipated. AALDEF and APABA-PA will continue the fight to strike down the restrictive law at every step, including at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Ujala Sehgal
212.966.5932 ex.217


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