(Graphic credit: ACLU)

PITTSBURGH - Four voting rights groups asked a federal court today to allow them to intervene to defend the rights of Allegheny County voters in a lawsuit filed by an organization challenging how the county maintains its voter registration list. Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and Demos, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI), and OnePA argue that the interests of their members and those they’ve registered to vote could be negatively impacted by excessive and imprecise purging of the county’s voter rolls.

Last week, Allegheny County was sued in federal district court by the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), in a challenge claiming that the county’s voter registration list requires further clean up, despite a routine list maintenance the county just undertook in January.

“It is routine and required by law that counties regularly purge their voter registration lists of inactive voters and people who are deceased,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “We will not standby, however, and allow outside actors to strong arm the county into excessive purging that leads to the disenfranchisement of eligible voters, which is the clear goal of PILF’s lawsuit.

“Our clients have every reason to defend the interests of their members and voters, and we hope the court recognizes that.”

In its lawsuit, PILF claims that the county must remove 14,000 people from its voter registration list. In January, the county conducted its regular update to its rolls and removed nearly 70,000 inactive and deceased voters.

"The League and its partner organizations work tirelessly to register voters each election cycle, and this lawsuit unreasonably creates unnecessary barriers to our work,” said Terrie Griffin, co-president of League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania. “We all want to make sure list maintenance practices are done well, and they also have to be done reasonably within the law.”

A motion to intervene allows people or organizations that are impacted by a lawsuit to participate as parties to the litigation. If the court grants the motion, the intervenors’ lawyers will have the opportunity to participate in discovery, present arguments in court, and be at the table for settlement discussions. 

“This is not the first time PILF has tried to steamroll local election officials into conducting unwarranted and ill-considered voter purges,” said Stuart Naifeh, senior counsel at Demos. “As in prior cases, this lawsuit has nothing to do with election integrity; it is voter suppression, pure and simple.”

As part of their voter engagement work, the League of Women Voters, OnePA, and APRI regularly lead voter registration drives. The League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh participated in more than 50 voter registration events in 2019, including at high schools and colleges, residential facilities for senior citizens, and judicial naturalization ceremonies. In 2018, OnePA registered more than 7,000 voters across the commonwealth.

“The African American community in Allegheny County will not stand by while our voting rights are threatened,” said Dewitt Walton, director of APRI’s Pittsburgh chapter. “We are in this fight to protect the sacred right to vote that our parents and grandparents fought for and to stop this naked attempt to dilute the power that African Americans have as we move forward.”

The lawsuit, Public Interest Legal Foundation v. Voye et al., is before the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. The League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and of Greater Pittsburgh, APRI, and OnePA are represented by Sara Rose and Witold Walczak of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Adriel Cepeda Derieux and Dale Ho of the ACLU, and Stuart Naifeh and Chiraag Bains of Demos. The brief in support of the motion to intervene is available at this link.