Citing a recent federal court ruling, a Pennsylvania lawmaker is touting legislation to require those registering to vote in the Keystone State to demonstrate U.S. citizenship. 

In late March, District Court Judge Christopher Conner of the Middle District of Pennsylvania ruled that the commonwealth must disclose documentation regarding problems in the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s (PennDOT) record-keeping system. Conner’s opinion recalled that, in 2017, the state acknowledged that PennDOT errors “permitted non-United States citizens applying for or renewing a driver’s license to register to vote in the Commonwealth.” 

According to the opinion, which affirms an earlier ruling of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, the state had given the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) a list of more than 1,000 “purported noncitizens” who asked to be removed from the state’s voter files. That information did not, however, include the actual voting histories of the apparent noncitizens. 

The state is now required to make those histories available to PILF, the plaintiff in the lawsuit. Conner noted the privacy concerns that the commonwealth cited in answering the litigation but averred that the transparency aims of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) should be prioritized foremost.

“The expansive obligation under NVRA to disclose voting registration records gives rise to legitimate privacy concerns,” Conner wrote. “Nonetheless, we agree with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ observation that the balance between privacy and transparency must be struck by the legislature, not the courts. Congress struck such a balance when it enacted NVRA, deciding transparency in how states determine voter eligibility – the vital bedrock of our electoral system – is generally paramount.”

State Representative David Maloney (R-Boyertown) is pointing to the court’s decision as proof of the need for his “Secure and Fair Elections Act” or “SAFE Act,” which he filed last May. The measure requires Pennsylvanians applying to vote to document their American citizenship. It describes 13 examples of records such applicants may use to that end, including a driver’s license, a birth certificate, a passport, naturalization papers, a Bureau of Indian Affairs card number or a certificate of citizenship. 

“When the state registers illegal immigrants to vote in U.S. elections and then spends four years in court at taxpayer expense trying to cover it up instead of being forthright suggests to me that a computer ‘glitch’ may not explain the totality of what is going on here,” Maloney said in a statement. “My legislation is very simple and pragmatic – it will require that those registering to vote must demonstrate that they are U.S. citizens before their registrations are considered completed, ensuring nothing like this ever happens again.” 

The legislation requires that those attempting to register to vote may receive copies of their birth certificates at no cost. It also calls upon the state Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation as well as county Boards of Elections to locate documentation of citizenship on behalf of any registrants who have not located such records themselves. 

Maloney said that Pennsylvania should enact a constitutional amendment to require Pennsylvanians to show identification to vote in addition to adopting his SAFE Act in an effort to “truly make it easy to vote but hard to cheat.” He is also a cosponsor of a constitutional amendment requiring voter identification.

Maloney’s bill has yet to receive a vote in the House of Representatives State Government Committee. 

– – –

Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Background Photo “Pennsylvania Capitol” by Kumar Appaiah. CC BY-SA 2.0.