Federal judge dismisses PA Republican lawmakers’ suit challenging ballot access - TAI News
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Voters walk past a sign pointing them to the polling location for in-person voting, Nov. 8, 2022, in Cranberry Township, PA. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

A federal judge this week rejected state Republican lawmakers’ attempts to restrict voting access in Pennsylvania. 

U.S. District Judge Jennifer Wilson on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by 27 right-wing state lawmakers who unsuccessfully challenged Democratic initiatives to expand ballot access. 

The Republican lawmakers went after Gov. Josh Shapiro for a recently implemented automatic voter registration program and President Joe Biden for a 2021 executive order directing federal agencies to expand voting access. The suit also challenged a 2018 directive from former Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration that stated a voter’s registration could not be rejected solely because an applicant submitted a driver’s license number or Social Security number that did not match a government agency’s database. Shapiro, Biden and Wolf are all Democrats.

The suit’s plaintiffs, which included 26 Republican members of the Pennsylvania House and one state senator, were led by state Rep. Dawn Keefer, an election denier who chairs the state House’s far-right Freedom Caucus.

Wilson’s order granted state and federal officials’ requests to dismiss the case and rejected a request from the Republican legislators to temporarily block Shapiro’s recently implemented automatic voter registration program as the lawsuits work their way through the courts.

The automatic voter registration initiative allows residents to register to vote when they apply for or renew their driver’s license or identification card.

In addition to attempting to overturn Shapiro’s automatic voter registration initiative, the plaintiffs challenged the legality of Biden’s 2021 executive order that aimed to involve more Americans in the voting process. The Brennan Center for Justice, a progressive nonprofit, called the executive order vitally important in a country with a long history of voter suppression.

“The executive order is one of the most substantial undertakings by any administration to overcome barriers to voting, many of which disproportionately affect people of color, low-income people, and those with disabilities or limited English proficiency,” the Brennan Center’s Lisa Danetz wrote in 2023. 

The automatic voter registration program, Biden’s executive order, and Wolf’s directive either needed full legislative approval or went against existing election law, the lawsuit alleged.

The judge decided otherwise.

“A vague, generalized allegation that elections, generally, will be undermined, is not the type of case or controversy that this court may rule on under Article III” of the Constitution, Wilson wrote.

Shapiro slammed the lawsuit as frivolous and hailed the judge’s decision as a win for democracy.

“In 2020, I defeated Donald Trump and his conspiracy theorist allies in court more than 40 times to defend Pennsylvanians’ votes and protect access to the ballot box,” Shapiro said of winning against lawsuits claiming voter fraud that election deniers filed in the wake of former President Trump losing the 2020 election. At the time of those lawsuits, Shapiro was Pennsylvania’s attorney general.

“Today, we’ve done it again by getting their frivolous effort to stop automatic voter registration in our commonwealth dismissed,” Shapiro continued in a March 26 statement. “Automatic voter registration is safe, secure, efficient, and entirely within my administration’s authority.”

The governor further criticized Trump and his allies, who continue to perpetuate the lie that the 2020 election was stolen and that efforts to increase access to voting, such as automatic registration and mail-in ballots, are fraudulent. Trump, for example, berated Shapiro on social media when the governor announced the automatic registration program in September, though analysts have since said the program could actually end up benefiting the former president.

“The Radical Left Governor, Josh Shapiro, has just announced a switch to Automatic Voter Registration, a disaster for the Election of Republicans, including your favorite President, ME!,” Trump wrote on Truth Social, employing his characteristically random use of capitalization. “This is a totally Unconstitutional Act, and must be met harshly by Republican Leadership in Washington and Pennsylvania.”

In his statement, Shapiro noted that Trump’s call for Republicans to fight automatic voter registration had failed.

“As governor, I will always remain focused on protecting our democracy and ensuring our elections are free, fair, safe, and secure,” Shapiro said. “Let today’s ruling be another reminder that taking legal advice from Donald Trump is never a winning strategy.”

Adam Bonin, a Philadelphia-based election lawyer, lauded the judge’s decision and called the lawsuit emblematic of Republican lawmakers’ efforts state- and nationwide to block access to the ballot.

“This is another reminder to voters that there is one political party that wants to make sure that everyone can vote and is willing to count the results and accept them,” Bonin told the Pennsylvania Independent. “And there is another party that wants to make it harder to vote and doesn’t accept the election results.”

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The Pennsylvania Independent is a project of American Independent Media, a 501(c)(4) organization whose mission is to use journalism to educate the public, giving them the information they need about local and federal issues.