HARRISBURG — The state government is flouting a federal law that requires workers at public assistance offices to distribute voter registration applications to clients, according to a lawsuit that points out that those offices received 7 percent of the applications they did 15 years ago.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia by Action United and the Black Political Empowerment Project. It named Gov. Tom Corbett's secretaries who head his agencies in charge of health, public welfare and elections.
It accuses the state of ongoing disregard of its requirements under the National Voter Registration Act, noting that public assistance offices received 4,179 voter registration applications in 2009 and 2010, compared with 59,462 in 1995 and 1996.
Such actions "have had a dramatic adverse impact on voter registration efforts in Pennsylvania," the lawsuit said.
The drop is particularly significant given a substantial increase in initial food stamp applications in that period, from about 1 million to 1.8 million, it said.
The lawsuit notes that recent moves by Ohio and Missouri to comply with the federal law have resulted in a wave of registration forms being completed. Public assistance agencies have increased voter registration by an average of more than 16,000 per month in Ohio and more than 10,000 per month in Missouri, it said.
A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of State, which oversees elections, said Friday that the Corbett administration would not comment on the lawsuit, but signaled that it will fight the claims.
"Concerns have been raised for a number of years about NVRA compliance," Ron Ruman said. "Both the prior administration and this administration believe we are in compliance and we will defend that vigorously."
The presidential election is four months away and the deadline to register to vote is Oct. 9.
Massachusetts, Nevada and Louisiana are also defending themselves against similar lawsuits.