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November 1, 2012 | By | Posted in Election 2012

Philly commissioner agrees that voter rolls need attention

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

SMOTE THE BLOAT: Up-to-date rolls give campaigns accurate counts of voters and ensure precincts are divided fairly.

HARRISBURG — A Philadelphia official said bloated voter rolls in Pennsylvania’s largest city are a risk to “free and fair elections.”

The city and state should be doing more to ensure inactive voters do not remain on voting rolls, Stephanie Singer, chairwoman of the Philadelphia City Commission, which oversees elections, told PA Independent on Thursday.

Though she disputed that such bloated voting rolls could lead to voting fraud, she said the up-to-date rolls give campaigns accurate counts of voters and ensure precincts are divided fairly.

“Keeping these registrations lists healthy should be one of the first priorities of anyone who cares about free and fair elections in the United States,” Singer said.

She said the state has not done enough to coordinate with other states to track voters that have moved from Pennsylvania, and she pointed a finger at the recent political and legal battle over Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law.

That effort drained time and attention that could have been used to double-check the voting rolls, she said.

Gov. Tom Corbett signed the state’s voter ID law in March, touching off a seven-month legal battle that culminated with a state judge granting an injunction in October against the new law.

Voters will be asked — but not required — to show photo identification when they go to the polls on Election Day.  They will be required to show identification beginning in 2013.

State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, chairman of the House State Government Committee and the original sponsor of the voter ID proposal, said Thursday that Singer should blame her fellow Democrats for the protracted legal battle if she truly believes the voter ID law took the focus off of the voter rolls.

“We should have a policy in place to make sure people are who they say they are when they go to vote,” Metcalfe said. “It’s common sense. Her criticisms are completely unfounded.”

About two out of every three city residents are registered to vote, a figure that simply defies logic, said Zack Stalberg, executive director of the Committee of Seventy, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that works for fair and open elections.

A recent analysis by Watchdog Labs, a sister organization to PA Independent’s national mothership, Watchdog.org, found voter roll bloating in most of the nation’s “swing states.”

That analysis found that 95 percent of Philadelphia’s voting age population was registered to vote for the 2008 election.

The 2002 Help America Vote Act required states to match voter rolls with death records and felony records, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan group that serves state lawmakers.

Among states, the federal law established a voluntary matching of voter rolls with the U.S. Postal Service’s list of address changes and death records handled by through the Social Security Administration.

In addition, some states participate in a voluntary consortium in which they have been matching their records in the spring of presidential years since 1980 in order to identify voters who have moved.

Pennsylvania does not participate in that group, said Ron Rumon, spokesman for the state Department of State, though the department will inform counties of the need to remove voters from the rolls, if other states bring specific instances to Pennsylvania’s attention.

“If we get the information, we certainly will pass it on,” he said.

Pennsylvania “dropped the ball” by not joining that consortium, Singer said.

Singer, who worked on John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign, has found herself in hot water in recent days after the Philadelphia Inquirer reported last month that she sent emails from her campaign account encouraging Philadelphia residents to vote for President Barack Obama.

Legally, there is nothing preventing her from doing so, but Republicans questioned whether the elected head of the board that oversees elections should be openly supporting a candidate.

Research conducted by the Pew Center on the States reveals that approximately 24 million voter registrations, or one out of eight, are no longer valid. The center also estimates that more than 1.8 million dead people are still listed as voters, and more than 2.75 million people are registered to vote in multiple states.

Contact Eric Boehm at Eric@PAIndependent.com and follow him on Twitter @PAIndependent.

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Eric Boehm is a reporter for PA Independent. He can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com or at (717) 350-0963.

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