The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) and the Asian
Pacific American Bar Association (APABA) of Pennsylvania filed an amicus
“friend of the court” brief in the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court challenging
the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s restrictive voter ID requirement in
Applewhite v. Pennsylvania. The amicus brief was prepared by AALDEF and
pro-bono counsel White & Case LLP.
“Pennsylvania’s voter ID law disenfranchises Asian Americans and prevents racial
and language minorities from exercising their fundamental right to vote,” said
Margaret Fung, Executive Director of AALDEF.
Asian Americans are the nation’s fastest growing minority group. Although Asian
Americans aim to participate in the political process, they have had to overcome
many barriers to exercise their right to vote.
Under the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law, all eligible voters
must present government-issued photo identification in order to vote. AALDEF’s
amicus brief demonstrates that Pennsylvania’s new photo ID requirements will
have discriminatory impacts on Asian American voters. The brief details findings
from election monitoring data compiled by AALDEF and other Asian American groups
over the last decade.
Prior to the adoption of Pennsylvania’s new law, AALDEF monitored the 2008
elections at seven poll sites in Pennsylvania with large numbers of Asian
American voters, including Philadelphia’s Chinatown, Olney, South Philadelphia,
Upper Darby, Montgomery Township, and Bensalem, and surveyed 518 Asian American
voters in a multilingual, nonpartisan exit poll.
Although non-first time voters did not need to provide identification under the
previous PA law, Asian American voters reported improper and excessive demands
for identification by poll workers and racial profiling. Of the 518 Asian
American voters that AALDEF surveyed, 135 voters were asked to present
identification even though it was not required of them.
“Voter ID laws in Pennsylvania have been used to target Asian American voters at
disproportionately higher rates when compared to other voters,” said Glenn D.
Magpantay, Director of AALDEF’s Democracy Program. “If photo identification is
required of all voters in Pennsylvania, our findings demonstrate that
identification would be misapplied and often required only of minority voters.”
AALDEF’s amicus brief further contends that the Commonwealth has made no
serious effort to educate Asian American voters on the photo ID law’s
requirements. According to AALDEF’s 2008 exit poll, only 21% of Asian American
voters in PA identified English as their native language, and 42% reported
limited English proficiency. Nonetheless, the Commonwealth’s efforts to educate
limited English proficient voters about this new law have been minimal thus far
and the state has done nothing to reach out to Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, or
Khmer-speaking voters. Moreover, the application and oath for a free
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Photo ID – intended for individuals
without an acceptable ID — are available only in English.
Finally, AALDEF’s amicus brief contends that the voter identification
requirements for naturalized U.S. citizens are unduly stringent. According to
AALDEF’s exit poll in 2008, 70% of Asian American voters in PA reported that
they were naturalized foreign-born citizens. Under PA’s new voter ID law,
naturalized citizens who are not possession of their naturalization certificates
(either because they were lost, damaged, or stolen) may be prevented from
voting, given the length of time and cost required to obtain a replacement
certificate from the federal immigration authorities.
“We urge the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to strike down the new voter ID law
because of the disenfranchising effect it will have on the political
participation of Asian American voters,” said Magpantay.
“The right to vote is a fundamental right of every citizen of this country,”
said Thomas MacWright, White & Case LLP. “Accordingly, we are opposed to any
attempt to limit access to the polls including a law — like that proposed in
Pennsylvania – that potentially disenfranchises whole segments of the
“The Commonwealth has passed a Voter ID law that interferes with the
constitutionally protected right to vote, even though it failed to prove or
prosecute a single case of impersonation fraud in court,” said Tsiwen Law, Local
Counsel to APABA-PA. “Now Pennsylvania voters, especially ethnic minorities and
the elderly, who happen to lack state-mandated forms of matching photographic
identification will lose the right to vote on election day as opposed to other
voters who happen to have the right form of state-mandated ID — all over a
problem that never existed. That loss is an irreparable harm for which an
injunction should be issued.”
Download the amicus brief >