Something funny with Montco motor voter kiosks

    Register to vote at a drivers’ license center in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, and weird stuff can happen.

    A PennDOT spokesman confirmed for me after an exchange of several emails that if you register to vote at an electronic kiosk available under the Motor Voter law, it’s possible to get signed up as an “independent Democrat” or “independent Republican.”

    They’re appealing categories, but they don’t happen to exist in Pennsylvania. If you choose either of those options, you’ll get registered as an independent, which means you can’t vote in either a Republican or Democratic primary. Pennsylvania holds “closed” primaries, where only registered members of the party can cast a ballot.

    This weirdness came to light when Montgomery County Democrats noticed that an unusually large number of voters who’d registered at PennDOT centers signed up as independents.

    The Inquirer’s Jeremy Roebuck reported this on Monday, noting that when Democrat Steve McCarter got his license renewed in December, he went to the kiosk and managed to sign up as a mythical “independent Democrat.” Roebuck reported he was also able to access this option at a PennDOT center.

    I reported the story Monday, and asked for comment from both the Pennsylvania Department of State, which supervises elections, and PennDOT.

    The State Department said they’re looking into it. PennDOT spokesman Craig Yetter preferred to communicate by email, and after an several follow-up questions acknowledged that indeed the non-existent categories do come up as options on the voter registration kiosks.

    Yetter said the screen options come from the Department of State.

    Department of State spokesman Kevin Murphy told me their analysis showed there was indeed an unusually large number of independents registered in Montgomery County. He said they’re still trying to get the screen captures from PennDOT to figure out what’s happening at the kiosks.

    “Maybe it’s operator error,” he said. “We’re still looking into it.”

    Meanwhile McCarter tells me the subject came up at the Montgomery County commissioners’ meeting yesterday, and they want their election supervisor to get PennDOT to Norristown for the next meeting to get to the bottom of this.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.