By a 2-1 vote, Allegheny County’s election board has decided to file a lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s new voter identification law.
The two Democrats, board chairman John DeFazio and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, voted to sue, while Republican Heather Heidelbaugh voted against the measure.
The results of the vote were hardly surprising.
Fitzgerald and several other key county Democrats already announced their intention to challenge the law.
The law, sponsored by Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, requires voters to show photo identification before they vote at the polls. After a dry run in the April primary, it is scheduled to take effect for the Nov. 6 general election.
The new Voter ID Act requires each elector who appears to vote to first present proof of identification and requires that local election officials verify the proof of identification.
“I’ve made no secret of the fact that I am absolutely opposed to the Voter ID law, but this meeting is about something different entirely,” said DeFazio. “Beyond the unfunded mandates being put on the county for implementation of this law, there are other requirements that are being put on the county that are inappropriate and unlawful.”
In a statement released prior to today’s vote, Allegheny County Council’s Republican Caucus issued a highly critical statement of the Democrats' challenge.
“It’s a dangerous precedent when special interests and party politics come into play regarding elections,” said Councilman Vince Gastgeb, R-Bethel Park. “We have all taken an oath to obey the laws and Constitution and I would ask all elected officials to get serious about working on real issues that affect our collective taxpayers.”
“There is nothing outlandish or outrageous concerning having an ID. It’s hard to believe that having something so fundamental and simply following law (that of having an ID to vote) would cause Allegheny County Democratic officials so much angst,” said Councilwoman Jan Rea, R-McCandless. “Voter identification to prevent fraud is a simple process. Allegheny County should be fully prepared to implement this new law.”
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner argued on Friday that the law violates the Pennsylvania Constitution and federal laws guaranteeing free and equal access to the polls while placing an unfunded mandate on county taxpayers.
“No elected official in our democracy should prevent citizens from voting,” Wagner said in a statement on the Allegheny County website. “We will not stand for this in Allegheny County, and we will not stand for this in Pennsylvania—our nation’s birthplace.
Heidelbaugh said the county’s lawsuit would ultimately amount to a waste of taxpayers’ dollars.
“The ACLU has already filed such a lawsuit which will be tried shortly in Harrisburg,” she said. “The ACLU has some fine lawyers and they don't need Allegheny County to file another lawsuit over the same issue. Perhaps the individuals promoting this lawsuit could just personally donate to the ACLU to cover the cost of their lawsuit and we can keep precious Allegheny County dollars at home."
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