Raucous committee meeting leaves Pa. lawmakers at odds over illegal voting

State lawmakers are trying to figure out how to stop voter-registration glitches that have allowed more than 500 non-citizens to vote in Pennsylvania and national elections since 2000.

That was the focus of a State Government Committee hearing Wednesday.

But after dissolving into partisan shouting matches several times, lawmakers left the session saying they don’t agree on how to handle the situation — or even how serious it is.

Over 17 years, roughly 93 million ballots have been cast in Pennsylvania. At least 544 of them came from immigrants in the country legally, according to the Department of State. That’s roughly one out of every 171,000.

But that number only includes people who reported they’d improperly registered. Department of State officials said they’re looking into whether there are more.

Election Commissioner Jonathan Marks said the problem stems from a glitch that will be fixed soon.

State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, the committee chair who initiated the hearing, said he thinks the department is withholding information about how many votes have been cast illegally.

“They know the people of Pennsylvania would be very offended to find out that there’s a large number of foreign nationals voting in our elections and canceling out rightful votes of our citizens,” Metcalfe said.

He also said he thinks the situation has something to do with former Secretary of State Pedro Cortes’ sudden, unexplained resignation this month.

“We brought this to Secretary Cortes’ attention a year ago,” Metcalfe said. “And then, when they were asked why did he depart, well, they couldn’t say he didn’t depart because of this, which has been a lot of the speculation from many people, because his departure was so quick.”

Democratic Chair Matt Bradford — whom Metcalfe briefly tried to eject from the hearing for interrupting testimony he took issue with — said the Republican chair is raising too much alarm.

“[This is] a discussion we can and should have,” Bradford said. “But Chairman Metcalfe makes it impossible to have a thoughtful discussion about a lot of tough issues.”

Philadelphia Democrat Donna Bullock, who also tangled with Metcalfe at the hearing, echoed Bradford, saying she thinks the level of illegal voting is being blown out of proportion.

“It’s still a small number [of illegal votes being cast],” she said. “What I learned more than anything is that our system still works, because there is a way to check this, see it — and, now, correct it.”

Metcalfe said he is now looking into getting subpoena power so his committee can continue probing Department of State officials, including Cortes, who did not respond to Metcalfe’s invitation to testify Wednesday.

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