HARRISBURG – A federal lawsuit accuses Pennsylvania elections officials of withholding “records and data showing the extent to which noncitizens are participating in the commonwealth’s elections” from the public.
The Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) filed the suit April 10 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania claiming the defendants violated Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993.
The defendants are acting Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Kathy Boockvar, Deputy Secretary for Commissions and Elections Jonathan M. Marks, and the Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation
“According to statements and records of commonwealth election officials, non-U.S. citizens have been registering and voting in Pennsylvania for decades,” the 39-page lawsuit said.
The lawsuit says in Pennsylvania, voter registration records are maintained by state and county officials using the Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors, or SURE, which facilitates the registration and cancellation of registrants.
“Using the SURE system, ‘Commissions shall institute a program to protect the integrity of the electoral process and to ensure the maintenance of accurate and current registration records,’” the suit said.
“Like the NVRA, Pennsylvania has a state public disclosure law pertaining to election list maintenance records. State law requires that all registration list maintenance records maintained by the defendants be made available for public inspection and duplication.”
The suit adds that when the registration of a registered elector is canceled, election officials must “mark on all registration records of the elector the word ‘canceled’ and the date and cause of cancellation” and then “remove any registration records pertaining to the elector” and retain the cancellation records “separate from registered electors for five years.”
“Records of removal and cancellations are subject to public inspection under the NVRA,” the petition said.
Arguing that “noncitizen registration and voting is a crime,” the PILF stated in the complaint that its investigations and those by others “have revealed that noncitizens are registering and voting in the commonwealth.”
“Before the 2016 election, we were previously representing a client in a motor-voter list maintenance lawsuit… against the City of Philadelphia,” Logan Churchwell, PILF communications director, told the Pennsylvania Record.
“In the discovery process, we started seeing these filings generated by the City of Philadelphia where non-U.S. citizens, generally green card holders, would contact the elections office and say, ‘A mistake happened. I am registered to vote, and immigration will not let me renew what I need to renew or talking about deportation because of voter registration and I had no idea.’”
According to Logan, the PILF – citing an open records provision in the NVRA – placed a request to examine Pennsylvania’s efforts to properly maintain elector cancellation records more than a year ago to no avail.
“They said essentially, ‘No, you do not have a right to the information,’ and drew the line on the idea that if someone were calling and saying their grandma died, they would have to show us that record of removing a dead person but they do not have to show the same record of removing a noncitizen,” he said.
“That is where the fight is: should Pennsylvania under federal law be required to provide records of noncitizen cancellations just as it would a dead or relocated person who was a citizen?”
Logan said PILF pursued legal action in Pennsylvania because “there were admissions from state and local officials saying noncitizen voter registration is happening and happening systemically.”
“We wanted to see that systematic fix in action as memorialized by the records they were generating and we are being rebuffed right now,” he said.
The suit further alleges that the Department of State “has not made the aforementioned records or any other requested records available for public inspection but has intentionally and repeatedly denied the foundation access to the request records.”
Logan mentioned that the PILF’s fight intends to keep noncitizens who registered to vote yet sought removal from state rolls from suffering a fate such as deportation.
Linda A. Kerns with the Law Offices of Linda A. Kerns LLC, of Philadelphia, is representing the foundation.