In July 2012, the Lawyers’ Committee, together with pro bono counsel Hogan Lovells and other litigation partners (Demos and Project Vote), filed suit in federal court to remedy the failure of Pennsylvania state officials to provide voter registration services at state public assistance offices, as required by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). Plaintiffs are the Black Political Empowerment Project and ACTION United, two non-partisan community organizations that engage in voter registration efforts in Pennsylvania, particularly in minority communities.
This is the eighth such lawsuit filed by the Lawyers’ Committee and its partners to address widespread violations of the NVRA at state public assistance offices. The NVRA requires that public assistance offices in Pennsylvania and other states distribute a voter registration application each time a client applies for benefits, recertifies, or fills out a change of address form, unless the client declines an application in writing.
As described in the federal Complaint, Plaintiffs’ pre-lawsuit investigation showed that Pennsylvania public assistance offices have been failing to fulfill their voter registration responsibilities for many years. For example, data reported by the state to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission showed that only about 4,200 individuals submitted voter registration applications to public assistance offices in 2009 and 2010, which represented a 93% decrease from the number received in 1995-96 when implementation of the NVRA first began. Recent surveys of public assistance offices and clients confirmed that Pennsylvania public assistance offices were not complying with the NVRA.
In August 2012, the parties entered into a settlement agreement to resolve the litigation, which was approved by the federal district court. Under the terms of the settlement, state officials are obligated undertake a variety of measures, including:
- Relevant agency policies and practices will be amended to ensure that public assistance offices distribute voter registration applications in compliance with the NVRA. This will apply equally to both in-person and remote transactions.
- The state public assistance agencies will include a voter registration application on their websites as part of any downloadable public assistance benefits applications, renewal or recertification forms, and change of address forms.
- Monthly data tracking and analysis will be enhanced so that compliance with the NVRA can be monitored and, if necessary, corrected.
- Modified staffing requirements at public assistance agencies and the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office will ensure that job duties of responsible personnel are in line with NVRA requirements, and training for relevant personnel will occur semi-annually.
- Each public assistance office will prominently post a sign, provided by the Secretary of the Commonwealth, advising the public of the opportunity to register to vote at the office, and encouraging public assistance applicants and recipients to do so.
The settlement will remain in effect for three years – ending September 2015.