Penn. Put on Notice for Failing to Provide Voter Registration to Low-Income Citizens

By Project Vote April 27, 2012

Attorneys from Demos, Project Vote, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law sent a pre-litigation notice letter on Monday to the Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth charging that the state is failing to provide low-income residents with a legally-mandated opportunity to register to vote. The groups demand that the secretary immediately act to bring Pennsylvania into compliance with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) or face litigation.

The letter, sent on behalf of the Black Political Empowerment Project, was also forwarded to Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare and Department of Health officials.

According to U.S. Election Assistance Commission data, the number of voter registration applications submitted at Pennsylvania public assistance offices decreased by 93% in recent years, from 59,462 in 1995-1996 to just 4,179 in 2009-2010. This drop in voter registrations is particularly significant given that the number of initial food stamp applications in Pennsylvania during the same time frame nearly doubled.

Evidence cited in the notice letter suggests that the reason for this reduction lies with the Commonwealth. The majority of clients seeking public assistance services are simply not being offered voter registration opportunities.

“When done appropriately, public agency registration is one of the most effective means of ensuring that all citizens are offered the opportunity to participate in their government,” said Sarah Brannon, director of the Public Agency Voter Registration Program for Project Vote, in a press release today. “It reaches people who are less likely to register to vote through other means, including low-income residents, minorities, the elderly, and the disabled.”

In the letter, the voting rights groups advised that they are ready to work with Commonwealth officials to bring the Commonwealth into full compliance with the NVRA to ensure that all Pennsylvania residents have an equal opportunity to register to vote.