Pennsylvania Must Release Records Pertaining to a ‘Glitch’ That Allowed Non-Citizens on Voter Rolls

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania must release its records pertaining to a “glitch” within its Department of Transportation that allowed non-citizens to register to vote in the state for decades. In 2017, authorities discovered an “error” in the computer system of Pennsylvania’s department of transportation “non-United States citizens applying for or renewing a driver’s license to register to vote in the Commonwealth.”

A U.S. district court made a ruling on the matter late last month. Judge Christopher Conner, who sits on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, ruled that under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), The Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) is entitled access to documents detailing the prevalence of the issue and actions taken by the commonwealth to address the errors in the state’s voting files.

“The expansive obligation under NVRA to disclose voting registration records gives rise to legitimate privacy concerns. Nonetheless, we agree with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ observation that the balance between privacy and transparency must be struck by the legislature, not the courts,” Conner wrote. “Congress struck such a balance when it enacted NVRA, deciding transparency in how states determine voter eligibility—the vital bedrock of our electoral system—is generally paramount.”

As a result of the glitch, Pennsylvania launched a series of investigations in order to gauge its effect. The review included a “noncitizen matching analysis” conducted by an outside expert and sought to figure out how the “error” came about.

The state government had previously released a list of “1,160 purported noncitizens who requested to be removed from the voter registration lists”, according to The Federalist. However, the list was redacted and did not include the voting history of registrants. As a result of the new ruling on the glitch, Pennsylvania will now be required to provide this information to PILF.

Among the records sought by PILF include all documents related to “registrants who the Commonwealth identified as potentially not satisfying the citizenship requirements for registration since January 1, 2006,” and “noncitizens who requested removal from voter registration lists since January 1, 2006.”

A previous lawsuit from the group that sought similar documents was filed in 2019. This lawsuit, however, was struck down by the same district court. On that ruling, Conner argued that while “PILF falls within NVRA’s ‘zone of interests’ and had standing,” the organization “failed to comply with the statute’s notice requirements.”

Following the court’s March 31 ruling, PILF President J. Christian Adams praised the ruling in a statement. “Americans have a right to documents exposing government malfeasance and non-citizens being registered and even voting,” Adams said. “Pennsylvania spent four years fighting transparency and trying to hide their mistakes. It is sad that transparency in Pennsylvania elections had to be enforced by a court.”

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Cullen McCue