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Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now v. Corbett

September 28, 2010

ASSOCIATION OF COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS FOR REFORM NOW (ACORN); PROJECT VOTE; AND MARYELLEN HAYDEN, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
TOM CORBETT, ATTORNEY GENERAL, COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nora Barry Fischer United States District Judge

Judge Nora Barry Fischer

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. Introduction

This matter comes before the Court on a motion for judgment on the pleadings filed by the Defendant pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). (Docket No. [49]). For the reasons that follow, that motion will be denied without prejudice.

II. Background*fn1

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now ("ACORN") is a not-for- profit organization incorporated in Louisiana. Docket No. 38 at ¶ 3. During the course of its 40-year history, ACORN has been one of the nation's largest community organizations working on behalf of low- and moderate-income families. Id. at ¶ 4. Project Vote is a non-partisan, non- profit organization incorporated in Louisiana. Id. at ¶ 5. Its principal office is located in Washington, D.C. Id. Since its founding in 1982, Project Vote has assisted millions of low-income and minority citizens with voter-registration procedures. Id. Working in conjunction with other civic groups, including ACORN, Project Vote has assisted Pennsylvania citizens with voter-registration procedures since 1982. Id. Maryellen Hayden ("Hayden") is a Pennsylvania resident who has served as the head organizer for ACORN's offices in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Id. at ¶ 8. She directed ACORN's voter-registration drives in Pittsburgh during the 2008 election season. Id.

In anticipation of the 2008 election, ACORN hired approximately 300 canvassers to assist low-income and minority residents of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, with voter-registration procedures. Id. at ¶ 19. Between January and October of 2008, ACORN submitted approximately 40,000 voter-registration applications to the Allegheny County Elections Division ("Elections Division"). Id. Project Vote and Hayden were involved in ACORN's activities during that period of time. Id. at ¶ 20.

In accordance with internal policies that applied nationwide, ACORN and Project Vote submitted to the Elections Division all voter-registration applications collected by their canvassers, including those which appeared to be problematic or deficient. Id. at ¶ 36. This practice was in conformity with a request that had been made by Elections Division personnel. Id. at ¶ 37. Applications deemed to be defective or questionable were separated from the other applications and submitted with cover sheets flagging them for Elections Division officials. Id. at ¶ 38. Under the guidance of Project Vote, ACORN adhered to this practice throughout the 2008 election season. Id. at ¶ 40. Between March and October of 2008, ACORN identified 216 applications as "problematic" and called them to the attention of Elections Division personnel. Id. at ¶ 45.

In March 2008, suspicions surfaced that some ACORN canvassers were submitting falsified voter-registration applications. Id. at ¶ 41. Hayden and other ACORN officials provided the Elections Division with potentially defective applications and the identities of the canvassers who had submitted them. Id. At Hayden's direction, some ACORN employees were terminated in connection with these applications. Id. at ¶ 42. Other ACORN employees resigned after being confronted with allegations that they had acted improperly. Id. These personnel changes were reported to the Elections Division. Id.

In October 2008, as the general election approached, detectives employed by Allegheny County requested information from ACORN concerning thirty of its canvassers. Id. at ¶ 43. The number of canvassers subject to this inquiry was eventually narrowed to thirteen. Id. By that time, the canvassers were no longer employed by ACORN. Id. ACORN provided the detectives with the employment records for eleven of these individuals. Id. at ¶ 44. The remaining two individuals had apparently never been employed by ACORN. Id.

The investigation continued after the election. On May 7, 2009, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappalla ("District Attorney") filed criminal charges against five former ACORN employees and two other individuals, alleging that they had committed criminal offenses in connection with the submission of fraudulent voter-registration applications.*fn2 Id. at ¶ 46. All five of the former ACORN employees had either resigned or been terminated because of suspicions that they had engaged in improper conduct. Id. at ¶ 47. All seven individuals were charged, inter alia , with violations of 25 P A. C ONS. S TAT. § 1713, which provides:

§ 1713. Solicitation of registration

(a) Prohibition. --A person may not 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.

(b) Penalty. --A person who violates subsection (a) commits a misdemeanor of the third degree and shall, upon conviction, be sentenced to pay a fine of not less than $500 nor more than $2,500 or to imprisonment for ...


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