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Allegheny County to challenge voter ID law

| Friday, June 15, 2012, 12:28 p.m.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announces his action to challenge the Voter ID Act alongside supporters on Friday at the county courthouse. Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review

Allegheny County Democrats said on Friday they're determined to overturn Pennsylvania's GOP-backed voter identification law because they think it will make it harder for poor, minority and elderly voters without IDs to cast a ballot.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald joined 18 local and state elected officials at a Downtown news conference to announce that the county Board of Elections will file a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court to eliminate the controversial law.

"It's going to disenfranchise and deny an awful lot of people the ability to vote," Fitzgerald said.

The elections board consists of Democrats Fitzgerald and County Councilman John DeFazio and Republican County Councilwoman Heather Heidelbaugh. They plan to hold a vote on filing the lawsuit at a meeting on Tuesday.

Heidelbaugh said she will oppose it.

"I don't quite understand why we're spending lawyer resources on this," she said. "Why are we filing a lawsuit on the same topic when the ACLU has already done it?"

Fitzgerald said the lawsuit would differ from the one filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania by arguing that the county does not have the money or time to train its poll workers to enforce the voter ID law. He couldn't pinpoint the cost, saying only that it would cost "millions of dollars" to train 6,500 poll workers who receive little pay.

The League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania conference of the NAACP, Homeless Advocacy Project and 10 people represented by the ACLU sued to strike down the law because they believe it violates the state Constitution.

Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, signed the bill March 14.

Supporters say the law will guard against voter fraud. Critics contend those supporters can't point to a case of voter fraud that the photo ID requirement would have prevented.

Authorities in 2009 prosecuted ACORN workers in Allegheny County for submitting fraudulent voter registration forms during the 2008 presidential election, but officials said there was no evidence that the faked forms led to fraudulent votes being cast. ACORN, or the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, is a defunct activist group.

Democrats have argued the law is a scheme by the Republican-controlled Legislature to disenfranchise voters and gain an advantage in the presidential race. Voters will be required to show identification the law deems acceptable for the first time in the November election.

A Quinnipiac University poll published on Tuesday found that Pennsylvanians support the law 66 percent to 32 percent. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.

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