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Loophole could allow 100,000 noncitizens to vote – even if voter ID law upheld by court

By   /   July 25, 2012  /   No Comments

By Jared Sichel | PA Independent

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s controversial voter ID law is beginning to look more like a piece of Swiss cheese.

As court hearings on the law begin Wednesday in Harrisburg, one glaring hole will remain even if the law is upheld — noncitizens can still easily vote.

A loophole in state law allows legal noncitizens — exchange students, individuals with work visas and those who have legally entered the country but have not yet completed the process to become citizens — to register to vote in Pennsylvania as long as they sign an affidavit with a county election board, swearing that they will have been American citizens for at least one month prior to the next election.

Nearly 100,000 noncitizens in Pennsylvania hold an approved form of photo ID. Because of a loophole in the state's voter registration law, any of these 100,000 people intent on committing voter fraud would have an easy time doing so.

And because driver’s licenses and state ID cards issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation do not list citizenship status, officials at polling stations would have no way of knowing that an illegally registered noncitizen is an illegally registered noncitizen.

Although there are few recorded instances of legal noncitizens voting, those who would want to game the system can follow a simple procedure, one that the photo ID law — which Republicans said would reduce fraud — in no way impacts: Sign a citizenship affidavit, register to vote, show up at a polling station, present PennDOT ID and cast a ballot.

PennDOT official Jan McKnight told PA Independent that last year, 98,968 voting-age noncitizens had PennDOT photo identification. McKnight said that 65,541 of those noncitizens had driver’s licenses and the remaining 33,517 had other forms of PennDOT photo ID.

Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, a Republican who last week released a report that addressed, in part, noncitizens voting in Philadelphia, said that registration lists need to be accurate because it’s not up to officials at voting booths to determine citizenship.

“We don’t want them to turn into citizenship police. All they need to know is, ‘Here’s the list. Is this person that person?’ You really want it to be pretty clear cut for them,” Schmidt said.

But whether in-person voter fraud is a problem in the Keystone State has come into question.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is serving as counsel for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the state, argues that in-person voter fraud is a nonexistent problem. The law, says the ACLU, will do more to harm innocent voters than it will to stop fraud.

“The Commonwealth has stipulated that it knows of no instances of actual in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania,” reads part of the ACLU’s pre-trial brief.

But for someone intent on committing fraud — even if the voter ID law is upheld — the 100,000-person noncitizen loophole would be a good place to start.

One solution would be for Pennsylvania to follow Florida’s lead and request a federal database of legal noncitizens. That would allow counties to crosscheck voter rolls against the list, searching for noncitizens who signed an affidavit but have not yet received citizenship.

That option, though, received a thumbs down when Department of State spokesman Ron Ruman on Tuesday said his agency has “no intention” of asking for that database.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, the main sponsor of the House’s version of the voter ID law, said that although the law is a good start towards deterring fraud, “it does not complete the work”.

“Part of that work is to ensure that when somebody registers to vote up front, that they are actually showing their eligibility (to vote),” Metcalfe said.

“If it’s going to take legislative action to make it happen, that’s certainly something that I’ll be pursuing,” he said.