Pennsylvania changing ‘Motor Voter’ to keep noncitizens from registering to vote

(Bas Slabbers/ for NewsWorks)

(Bas Slabbers/ for NewsWorks)

PennDOT — Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation — announced Wednesday it’s changing its “Motor Voter” system to prevent noncitizens from illegally registering to vote. 

Certain noncitizens in the country legally can obtain a driver’s license. Currently, the application process automatically asks those immigrants — via touch screen — if they want to register to vote.

“The Department of State, the Department of Transportation and Pennsylvania’s county election professionals are committed to protecting the rights of eligible citizens to vote. The freedom we cherish was built on this right and generations of Americans have fought to remove unfair barriers to this right,” said Secretary of the Commonwealth Pedro Cortes in a statement.

The news follows calls by the Philadelphia City Commissioners for PennDOT and the Department of State to clamp down on illegal voter registrations.

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A report released Wednesday found that 220 noncitizens illegally registered to vote in the city between 2006-2017.

Philadelphia has more than a million registered voters on its rolls.

The majority of the group in the report — 76 percent — signed up to vote using the “Motor Voter” system.

The data also show that most of those people never voted. Of the 90 who did, roughly half voted in just one election. The other half voted multiple times — between two and twelve times during that span, with the highest number of votes cast during the 2008 General Election, the first time President Barack Obama was elected.

“I don’t think there’s any par for the course. You never have any tolerance for any level of voting irregularities whether they’re intended, such as voter fraud or unintended, such as what we found here,” said City Commissioner Al Schmidt.

The Trump administration has repeatedly claimed that millions of non-citizens voted in the 2016 General Election. The Philadelphia report does not provide specific figures for that year.

Since Schmidt and Philly officials became aware of these registrations when the noncitizens took their names off the voter rolls, it’s unclear how many more immigrants illegally registered to vote in Philadelphia but went undetected. 

In addition to concerns about election integrity, Schmidt said his office wants to ensure that immigrants interested in becoming U.S. citizens aren’t rejected because they illegally registered to vote.

“As part of someone’s interview process and application process for becoming a U.S. citizen, they are asked if they ever registered to vote or voted in a U.S. election. And the answer to that question, if it’s ‘yes,’ is obviously a problem,” said Schmidt.

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