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September 20, 2017

Commissioner: Non-citizens voted in Philly elections

At least 220 non-citizens registered to vote between 2006 and 2017

At least 220 non-U.S. citizens successfully registered to vote in Philadelphia between 2006 and 2017, according to a report released Wednesday by City Commissioner Al Schmidt. 

Many of them did so when applying for Pennsylvania driver's licenses, a process that Schmidt urged the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to change.

"The current voter registration process at PennDOT is both harmful to election integrity and to members of the immigrant community seeking citizenship," Schmidt said in a statement.

A review of voter registration records found 168 non-U.S. citizens registered to vote or modified their voter registration record through PennDOT. Another 52 people registered through other means, including paper voter registration applications.

Of the 220 registrants, 90 people voted in at least one election between 2006 and 2017, according to Schmidt's report. They cast a total of 227 votes during that span, with 47 votes during the 2008 general election.

Schmidt placed much of the blame on PennDOT's application system for driver's licenses, which incorrectly presents non-citizens an opportunity to register to vote.

Non-citizens must provide documents affirming legal status when they apply for a driver's license. PennDOT verifies the documents with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, marking the applicant's record with an INS indicator.

But when licenses are issued to non-citizens at PennDOT's offices, the touch-screen technology asks applicants whether they would like to register to vote – just as it would for a citizen.

That prompt makes it possible for non-citizens to incorrectly believe they are able to vote, Schmidt said.

Schmidt called on PennDOT to modify its application process so that it does not offer registration to non-citizens and urged PennDOT to work with the Department of State (DOS) to cross-check all active voter registration records against current PennDOT records containing INS indicators.

He also called on DOS to review the voter registration records from Pennsylvania's other 66 counties. He suspects similar issues may be found there.

"I expect that, after conducting a statewide cross check, a far greater number of voter registration and voting irregularities of this nature will be identified," he said.

Schmidt said his office has researched the issue since the 2012 primary election, when his office released a report identifying various voting irregularities. 

Pennsylvania voter registration applications ask applicants to indicate whether they have been a U.S. citizen for at least one month prior to an upcoming election. 

That is the only information that Philly's voter registration office has to verify citizenship prior to an application being processed, Schmidt said.