PENNSYLVANIA PRISON WATCH

Sept. 30, 2000

Pennsylvania judge lifts bar on ex-felons voting

ASSOCIATED PRESS

HARRISBURG - A judge issued a temporary order yesterday allowing ex-felons recently released from prison to register to vote, a little more than a week before the deadline for the November elections. The two-page order from Commonwealth Court President Judge Joseph T. Doyle comes after Attorney General Mike Fisher said he would not appeal the court's Sept. 18 decision striking down the state's ban on newly released ex-felons registering to vote. In a lawsuit filed by the Philadelphia NAACP, the court found "no rational basis" for a provision that bars convicts from registering to vote for five years after their release but allows felons who were registered before entering prison to vote upon their release.

Earl W. Trent, who represented the NAACP, said he was pleased that Fisher chose not to oppose the temporary order. Fisher, a Republican running for reelection, could have waited until after the voter registration deadline, Trent said.

The deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 7 elections is October 10.

Sean Connolly, Fisher's spokesman, said the attorney general decided against an appeal on legal grounds. "We did not believe an appeal would prevail," he said.

The Philadelphia NAACP filed a lawsuit in June on behalf of ex-felons. Up to 40,000 blacks in Pennsylvania have been disenfranchised because of the state law, the NAACP said. A vast majority of them are registered Democrats, the group said. The law - the Pennsylvania Voter Registration Act of 1995 - targeted by the plaintiffs brought the state in compliance with the national "motor voter" law that made it easier for people to register to vote. But it also restricted the voting rights of former prison inmates.

2000 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc. _______________________________________________

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