HARRISBURG, Penn. — Four nonpartisan advocacy groups and three voters from Allegheny County have asked a state court in Pennsylvania to rule that they may intervene in an election-related lawsuit filed by the state Democratic Party.
Black Political Empowerment Project, Common Cause Pennsylvania, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, Make the Road Pennsylvania, and the three voters have told the court that they believe that their interests are broader and possibly divergent from both the Democrats and the Department of State.
Through the lawsuit, the intervenors are seeking clarification of several elements of vote-by-mail processes in Pennsylvania, including the need for mail-in and absentee ballot drop boxes and extending the deadline for receiving mail-in and absentee ballots.
The intervenors are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Pennsylvania, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Public Interest Law Center, and the law firm WilmerHale.
“Our interest is the right to vote for all eligible voters. Period,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The state should be implementing practices that guarantee the vote for everyone, not considering those that do the opposite.”
In their filings, the advocates and voters argue that current state law allows counties to provide secure drop boxes for people to submit their absentee and mail-in ballots. That issue is in dispute in this case, as well as a federal lawsuit filed by President Trump’s campaign in a court in western Pennsylvania.
“The key mission of the Black Political Empowerment Project is that African Americans vote in each and every election. We advocate that all people vote in each and every election. B-PEP will always stand strongly against any efforts, from any source, that goes against our community being able to fulfill our key mission to utilize the power of the vote, and its ability to impact the many problems which African Americans face on a daily and ongoing basis. The results of the November 3, 2020, presidential election may indeed profoundly affect the future of our African-American communities, both locally and nationally for years to come,” said Tim Stevens, chairman and CEO of the Black Political Empowerment Project.
“Our government ‘of the people’ is stronger and more representative when every voter can participate — and that means making sure voters have choices about how they can cast their ballot,” said Suzanne Almeida, interim executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania. “Drop boxes are a crucial option for voters who receive their absentee ballots too late to return them by mail. Without drop boxes, some people will be forced to choose between their health and their right to vote — and no one should have to make that choice.”
The June primary saw challenges in addressing the surge in applications for mail and absentee ballots. Because of this, advocates are also requesting that for the November 2020 general election, the deadline for returning ballots be extended to all ballots mailed by 8 p.m. on Election Day, as long as they are received by November 10, 2020.
“As a nonpartisan voting rights organization, the League seeks to intervene on behalf of voters in this case because the current parties explicitly cannot represent all voters,” said Terrie Griffin, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania. “As our leaders wage political fights over our state's election laws, the League will push to make sure the perspective of voters is brought to the table.”
“We're part of this lawsuit because everyone needs to be able to participate in our elections without barriers,” said Ivan Garcia, director of community engagement at Make the Road Pennsylvania.
The three voters — Patricia DeMarco, Danielle Graham Robinson, and Kathleen Wise — are all regular voters who faced significant hurdles in trying to vote in Allegheny County during the state’s primary election in June. DeMarco, Robinson, and Wise are all considered to be high risk for serious illness if they contract the novel coronavirus due to age or health conditions or both, based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
All three attempted to vote by mail in the primary but faced numerous challenges. Robinson and Wise received their ballots so late that they were not confident that the U.S. Postal Service would deliver them by Election Day; DeMarco mailed her ballot but never received confirmation from the county that it was received.
“Pennsylvanians must be allowed to protect their health and their vote. Making them choose is a false choice, and we will continue to challenge obstacles that are placed in their way,” said Sarah Brannon, managing attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.
Recent revelations of long delays in mail delivery by the U.S. Postal Service have compounded the intervenors’ concerns, their attorneys said.
“Voters deserve a voice in litigation that will affect their access to the ballot box,” said Ben Geffen, staff attorney at the Public Interest Law Center. “Our clients are seeking to intervene in this lawsuit to make the case for a mail-in voting system that is accessible and safe for all voters, including those in communities that have faced the deepest impacts of COVID-19.”
“American voters are facing too many barriers when they seek to use their rights at the ballot box during this election cycle,” said John Powers, counsel at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “It should never be this difficult to vote in our democracy, especially during the global pandemic. The court should give these four nonpartisan organizations the ability to participate in this case, which raises critical issues about the accessibility of mail-in voting for all eligible citizens.”
The lawsuit, Pennsylvania Democratic Party v. Boockvar, is pending in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.