PILF v. Schmidt Amicus Brief

In an amicus brief, Center for Election Confidence (then known as Lawyers Democracy Fund) encouraged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to recognize the “subtle but significant distinctions between congressionally mandated voter registration information” and privacy for driver’s licensing and motor vehicle registrations.

The brief was filed in support of Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) and its efforts to obtain information from Pennsylvania’s Secretary of the Commonwealth regarding a glitch that occurred several years ago registering noncitizens to vote.

In 1994, Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which required states to offer voter registration services as part of the driver’s license acquisition or renewal process. The same Congress passed the Drivers Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) to protect information collected by state departments of motor vehicles from inappropriate disclosure. One of the Commonwealth’s arguments is that the DPPA protects any information collected by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation from disclosure to PILF, despite provisions of the NVRA requiring disclosure.

Reading the DPPA to prevent disclosure would frustrate the NVRA, and the same Congress would not write two statutes that contradict each other. CEC’s amicus brief pointed out to the court that Congress presumed DMVs would create two simultaneous records and that Pennsylvania only collects citizenship data to determine voter eligibility – citizenship data is not necessary for motor vehicle purposes.

The brief highlights that “Congress intended for states to create two records simultaneously: a motor vehicle record for the DMV’s use and a voter registration record for delivery to the appropriate election officials for their use in administering elections.” Once the DMV transmits a record to a state’s election official “for voter registration purposes, the information so transferred cannot be deemed a ‘motor vehicle record’ subject to DPPA protection.”

The brief also sought to educate the court on motor vehicle records standards for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. The brief pointed out that “Pennsylvania drivers’ license laws… do not discriminate based on citizenship, while the Commonwealth requires voters to be citizens. Put simply, citizenship or immigration status are not points of information the Commonwealth requires the Department of Transportation to collect or maintain for the administration of driver license or motor vehicles, but rather that information is necessary to determine whether a prospective voter is eligible.”

Center for Election Confidence (then known as Lawyers Democracy Fund) was privileged to file the brief supporting PILF. The case raised important issues of what type of information the law permits a third party to access and what laws secretaries of state can use to hide embarrassing information.

Read Center for Election Confidence’s (f/k/a Lawyers Democracy Fund) brief in its entirety here.