Asian American Groups Urge PA Supreme Court to Strike Down Discriminatory Voter ID Law

Wednesday, Aug 29, 2012

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.

"Pennsylvania's voter ID law disenfranchises Asian Americans and prevents racial and language minorities from exercising their fundamental right to vote," said Margaret Fung, Executive Director of AALDEF.

Asian Americans are the nation's fastest growing minority group. Although Asian Americans aim to participate in the political process, they have had to overcome many barriers to exercise their right to vote.

Under the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's new voter ID law, all eligible voters must present government-issued photo identification in order to vote. AALDEF's amicus brief demonstrates that Pennsylvania's new photo ID requirements will have discriminatory impacts on Asian American voters. The brief details findings from election monitoring data compiled by AALDEF and other Asian American groups over the last decade.

Prior to the adoption of Pennsylvania's new law, AALDEF monitored the 2008 elections at seven poll sites in Pennsylvania with large numbers of Asian American voters, including Philadelphia's Chinatown, Olney, South Philadelphia, Upper Darby, Montgomery Township, and Bensalem, and surveyed 518 Asian American voters in a multilingual, nonpartisan exit poll.

Although non-first time voters did not need to provide identification under the previous PA law, Asian American voters reported improper and excessive demands for identification by poll workers and racial profiling. Of the 518 Asian American voters that AALDEF surveyed, 135 voters were asked to present identification even though it was not required of them.

"Voter ID laws in Pennsylvania have been used to target Asian American voters at disproportionately higher rates when compared to other voters," said Glenn D. Magpantay, Director of AALDEF's Democracy Program. "If photo identification is required of all voters in Pennsylvania, our findings demonstrate that identification would be misapplied and often required only of minority voters."

AALDEF's amicus brief further contends that the Commonwealth has made no serious effort to educate Asian American voters on the photo ID law's requirements. According to AALDEF's 2008 exit poll, only 21% of Asian American voters in PA identified English as their native language, and 42% reported limited English proficiency. Nonetheless, the Commonwealth's efforts to educate limited English proficient voters about this new law have been minimal thus far and the state has done nothing to reach out to Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, or Khmer-speaking voters. Moreover, the application and oath for a free Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Photo ID - intended for individuals without an acceptable ID -- are available only in English.

Finally, AALDEF's amicus brief contends that the voter identification requirements for naturalized U.S. citizens are unduly stringent. According to AALDEF's exit poll in 2008, 70% of Asian American voters in PA reported that they were naturalized foreign-born citizens. 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.

"We urge the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to strike down the new voter ID law because of the disenfranchising effect it will have on the political participation of Asian American voters," said Magpantay.

"The right to vote is a fundamental right of every citizen of this country," said Thomas MacWright, White & Case LLP. "Accordingly, we are opposed to any attempt to limit access to the polls including a law -- like that proposed in Pennsylvania - that potentially disenfranchises whole segments of the population."

"The Commonwealth has passed a Voter ID law that interferes with the constitutionally protected right to vote, even though it failed to prove or prosecute a single case of impersonation fraud in court," said Tsiwen Law, Local Counsel to APABA-PA. "Now Pennsylvania voters, especially ethnic minorities and the elderly, who happen to lack state-mandated forms of matching photographic identification will lose the right to vote on election day as opposed to other voters who happen to have the right form of state-mandated ID -- all over a problem that never existed. That loss is an irreparable harm for which an injunction should be issued."

Download the amicus brief >

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