PHILADELPHIA – On Wednesday, the Black Political Empowerment Project (B-PEP) and ACTION United entered a Court approved Settlement Agreement with the Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele, Secretary of Public Welfare Gary D. Alexander, and Secretary of Health Dr. Eli N. Avila resolving claims relative to the Commonwealth’s compliance with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). Since its 1993 enactment, the NVRA has helped ensure that low-income residents receive an opportunity to register to vote by mandating that all public assistance agencies offer voter registration services. The plaintiffs are represented by a coalition of national voting rights groups including Demos, Project Vote, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and pro bono counsel Hogan Lovells, US LLP.
The plaintiffs’ initial complaint alleged that the majority of clients seeking public assistance services in Pennsylvania were not being offered voter registration opportunities in accordance with the law.
Per the terms of the settlement, the Commonwealth has agreed to the following:
The term of the agreement will be three years – ending September 2015.
In the past several years, lawsuits filed by the same voting rights groups have led to other states that had been disregarding the NVRA to comply, with dramatic results. For example, applications from Missouri public assistance agencies skyrocketed, from fewer than 8,000 a year to almost 10,000 a month, following settlement of a suit in that state in 2009. Nearly 480,000 low-income Ohioans have applied to register since a similar case was settled there at the end of 2009. Cases were also recently settled in New Mexico, Indiana, and Georgia.
“The people in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and indeed the nation, who might benefit the most from having an ongoing, consistent, and accessible opportunity to register to vote are low income residents. The opportunity for political empowerment and the opportunity to vote in each and every election cannot be underestimated. A lifetime commitment to voting is crucial,” said Tim Stevens, chairman and CEO of B-PEP, “If this agreement has its intended effect, there could be hundreds of thousands of eligible voters added to the rolls every year.”
“Voting is the cornerstone of civic engagement and a critical part of being a citizen,” said Lucille Prater-Holliday, president of ACTION United. “Public assistance offices are tasked with facilitating the voter registration of low-income citizens. Without full and robust compliance with the NVRA the disenfranchisement and disengagement of these citizens is only perpetuated. We are glad that the Commonwealth has bound itself to a meaningful implementation of the statute.”
Media Note: To speak with an expert on this issue please contact Anna Pycior at 212.389.1408 or [email protected]