Former ACORN employees in Pennsylvania are facing prosecution for violating a state law barring solicitation for voter registration. ACORN is responding with a suit challenging the law's constitutionality. The NYT reports:
Acorn hopes the lawsuit will prevent criminal prosecution of its local leaders and office, which have been under investigation by Mr. Zappala's office for eight months, said Witold Walczak, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which is representing Acorn.This could make for an interesting case, and could have wide implications. Quite a few states have similar laws.
"They already charged the employees, and they've hinted they might go after Acorn next," said Mr. Walczak, who believes this is the first time such a law has been challenged in federal court.
"It's the A.C.L.U.'s reading of this," he said, "that these kind of laws that restrict an organization's ability to hire and pay canvassers impacts on voter registration activities, which are constitutionally protected actions."
In May, seven people — five of whom Acorn said were former employees it had fired — were charged in Allegheny County with a variety of counts related to voter registration fraud, including "solicitation of registration," the state law being challenged in the Acorn suit.
That law makes it a crime to "give, solicit or accept payment or financial incentive to obtain a voter registration if the payment or incentive is based upon the number of registrations or applications obtained."
The Times also reports on allegations imposed quotas on its registration canvassers.
Brian Mellor, senior counsel for Project Vote, an advocacy group assisting in Acorn's defense in Pennsylvania, said there were at least nine other states with similar laws: Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, Ohio, Washington and Wisconsin.
Several of the defendants told investigators that Acorn had imposed a quota on them, whereby they would be fired if they did not reach a set goal of about 20 new voter registrations per six-hour shift, for which they were paid $8 an hour.
But an Acorn official said the organization never had a quota. It had "performance standards," said the official, Maryellen Hayden, head organizer for Acorn of Western Pennsylvania.
"We wouldn't fire people if they didn't reach those standards," Ms. Hayden said. "We told people, 'If you want to be the best voter registration worker, 20 to 25 cards is the standard.' "
The Pennsylvania law needs to be struck down, Ms. Hayden said, because "the way this law has been applied would mean that any big organization that does paid voter registration drives could be subject to charges at any time."
"That creates a fear that could impede our First Amendment rights," she said.