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July 25, 2012 | By | Posted in General News

Keystone State has no plans to remove noncitizens from voter rolls

By Jared Sichel | PA Independent

Pennsylvania election officials do not plan to seek access to a federal database that would help them identify legal noncitizens, who have registered to vote.

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania will not be following Florida’s lead in identifying noncitizens on its voter registration rolls, even though the commonwealth’s law doesn’t do much to stop noncitizens from registering.

“We haven’t come across that as an issue,” said Pennsylvania Department of State spokesman Ron Ruman. “It hasn’t crossed our radar, I guess, as something we needed to look at.”

Ruman added that his agency has “no intention” of accessing the national database of resident noncitizens as Florida did.

The Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements database, maintained by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, includes people who legally reside in the United States with visas, for example, but are not citizens and cannot legally vote.

If the Keystone State wanted to tap into SAVE, the state’s 67 counties could cross-check their registered voter rolls and easily remove illegally registered noncitizens.

Florida Republicans — in a campaign to ensure accurate voter rolls — recently convinced DHS to grant the Sunshine State access to SAVE.

Republican officials in several battleground states — including Ohio, Michigan and Colorado — closely followed Florida’s success and accessed SAVE.

In Pennsylvania, the law allows legal noncitizens to vote if they sign an affidavit for their county election board, stating that they will have been American citizens for at least one month prior to the next election.

And that is the loophole.

Republican Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt referred to instances in which noncitizens successfully voted in a report highlighting voter irregularities in the city.

Unless illegal noncitizens step forward, the state or a county board of elections wouldn’t know that they voted until they applied for citizenship with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, according to Schmidt’s report.

Since Jan. 1, CIS has identified 19 people in Philadelphia County who are applying for citizenship but illegally registered to vote. Seven of them have voted in at least one election since 2002.

Because CIS only notifies Pennsylvania once someone applies for citizenship, counties can’t gauge how many noncitizens are on their voter rolls.

“We only find about it in this weird backdoor way of immigration contacting us,” Schmidt said. “We don’t know how many noncitizens we have registered.”

However, Schmidt had reservations about using SAVE to purge the voter rolls, saying the process should be done cautiously to avoid accidentally removing legally registered voters, who recently gained citizenship.

“It’s something that we should at least explore,” Schmidt said. “(But) the absolute last thing you want to do is remove an eligible registered voter from the poll books.”

Philadelphia’s Democratic Deputy Commissioner Jorge Santana said the Pennsylvania’s Department of State should spearhead the removal of illegal noncitizens, because its database — the Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors — facilitates counties’ efforts to maintain accurate voter rolls.

“It’s not a major, major thing that’s happening, but it is something that we want to address,” Santana said. “It’s really essential that something of that magnitude — working with a federal department —happens at the state level.”

Removing noncitizens from the voter rolls is part of a national trend against voter fraud led by GOP-dominated statehouses that have passed voter ID legislation. Gov. Tom Corbett signed Pennsylvania’s photo ID law in March, making Pennsylvania the ninth state to require photo ID as a condition of voting.

The Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in May in the Commonwealth Court, alleging that the photo ID law violates the state constitution. The first hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in Harrisburg.

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Melissa Daniels is a reporter for PA Independent. She can be reached at 717-350-0962 or Melissa@PAIndependent.com

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