Pennsylvania system glitch let non-citizens register to vote

Some people who are in the U.S. legally but who are not citizens were mistakenly allowed to register to vote in Philadelphia because of a glitch in Pennsylvania’s electronic driver’s licensing system, a city election official said Wednesday.

Al Schmidt, a Republican who sits on Philadelphia’s three-member election commission, said that, since 2006, at least 168 noncitizens registered to vote in the city through the “motor voter” driver’s licensing system. In some cases, they voted, and some of them voted in more than one election, Schmidt said.

Schmidt said he became aware of those people because they had contacted his office. Many more noncitizens could have mistakenly registered through the system in Philadelphia and elsewhere in Pennsylvania, he said.

“This is a real concern,” Schmidt said. “It is harmful to election integrity and it is harmful to members of the immigrant community who are applying for citizenship. If you’ve registered to vote in the U.S., and you’re not a citizen, it’s potential grounds for the denial of your citizenship application.”

In a statement, the Pennsylvania Department of State said it is working to fix the system, and that it was aware of the problem before Schmidt contacted the agency in July. A department spokeswoman could not immediately say when the department first became aware of the issue.

The department is looking into the total number of mistakenly registered voters, and could not provide an estimate, the spokeswoman said.

Some 6.1 million people voted in Pennsylvania in November’s presidential election, including over 700,000 in Philadelphia.

The problem stemmed from electronic touch screens in state driver’s license centers that were programmed to give users the option to register to vote while getting a new or updated license.

The system showed noncitizens the voter-registration option, even though they had already provided information showing that they were not citizens, officials said.

In August 2016, the department took a step to try to prevent such registrations. It changed the software so that users are immediately asked if they are a U.S. citizen. The process stops if the user answers “no,” the department said.

It said it is working on creating a new touch-screen system in which a noncitizen would not see the motor voter screens at all, the department said.

The motor-voter system may not be the only problem in Pennsylvania. Schmidt said he discovered 52 other noncitizen legal immigrants who registered to vote through other means, including paper voter registration applications. The Department of State is looking into that, as well, the spokeswoman said.

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