A federal appeals court has upheld the dismissal of a case filed by conservative group the American Civil Rights Union, which had demanded that the Philadelphia City Commissioners remove the names of inmates from the city’s voter registration rolls.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled on Monday that Pennsylvania law does not require municipalities to remove the names of incarcerated registrants from the roll. While their right to vote is suspended in prison, ex-convicts can vote again as soon as they’re released under Pennsylvania’s Voter Registration Act.
The ACRU, founded in 1998 by Reagan administration policy adviser Robert B. Carleson, lists election integrity among its top priorities and has filed numerous legal briefs on the issue. Echoing President Donald Trump’s cries of voter fraud in the 2016 election, ACRU board member Hans von Spakovsky wrote a column, published Sept. 20, chastising the media for “biased coverage” and an alleged effort to keep the public “in the dark” about voter fraud.
In Philadelphia, the organization argued the city was in violation of federal election law by not removing the names of deceased, incarcerated or relocated voters from the rolls.
However, Third Circuit Judge Theodore McKee wrote in the court’s opinion that the restrictions on a convicted felon’s ability to vote are determined by the individual states.
“Even though Pennsylvania suspends the franchise during the period of incarceration, it does not require the removal of registrants from voter rolls due to incarceration for a felony conviction,” McKee said.
Pennsylvania voter law, like its federal counterpart, the National Voter Registration Act, states, “‘an elector’s registration shall not be canceled except’ if the voter dies, changes residence, asks to be taken off the list, or removal is necessary to comply with the NVRA,” according to McKee. “As noted above, the NVRA refers only to state law, death, change in residence, or request of the registrant.”
The language of the federal voting law says that states may remove felons’ names from their roll, but they are not ordered to, according to McKee.
John C. Eastman, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence in Orange, California, argued the ACRU’s case before the Third Circuit and did not respond to a request for comment.
Kelly S. Diffly, an attorney with the City of Philadelphia Law Department, argued the case before the Third Circuit.
In an email, Commissioner Lisa Deeley said, “Having the courts once again concur with Pa. law and the rights of voters just reaffirms my commitment to free, fair elections in Philadelphia.”