Law firm uncovers illegal immigrants, convicted felons on rolls — and some have voted in crucial swing state
At least 86 non-citizens have been registered voters in Philadelphia since 2013, and almost half — 40 — even voted in at least one recent election, according to a legal group that sued to get voter registration records.
Joseph Vanderhulst, an attorney with the Public Interest Legal Foundation, noted Philadelphia knows about those 86 illegal voters only because officials received specific requests — in almost every case from the voters themselves — to remove the names from the rolls. He said there is no way to know how many non-citizens might be registered to vote in Philadelphia, let alone in the rest of politically crucial Pennsylvania.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “Who knows how many are on and don’t ask to be taken off?”
Research by the law firm also indicated that Philadelphia makes no effort to proactively remove non-citizens or incarcerated felons, who also are ineligible to vote under Pennsylvania law.
Philadelphia becomes the latest jurisdiction that the Public Interest Legal Foundation has revealed to have irregularities in the voter rolls. The group recently found 1,046 non-citizens who had been registered to vote in eight Virginia counties and that nearly 200 cast ballots between 2005 and 2015.
Asked how ineligible voters could be registered in Philadelphia, a city elections official, who did not identify himself, said, “I have no idea what they’re talking about. No, there aren’t,” before abruptly hanging up the phone.
Vanderhulst said the legal foundation encountered indifference and outright hostility when lawyers began seeking information. The group made a request under the Help America Vote Act in January.
After the city ignored the request, the firm sued. The information that the city ultimately provided shows that:
- The city canceled 23 registered voters in 2015. Of that group, seven voted in past elections, and three had been registered for more than a decade.
- The city canceled 30 registered voters in 2014. Of that group, 18 had voted in past elections, and eight had been registered for at least a decade.
- The city canceled 33 registered voters in 2013. Of that group, 15 had voted in past elections, and six had been registered for at least a decade.
Requests by the ineligible voters to be removed from the rolls included those who indicated that they had mistakenly marked boxes indicating that they were eligible voters when applying for driver's licenses. In some instances, voters marked "no" on the forms but got voter registration cards anyway.
In another case, a voter indicated that he had been on the rolls for the previous five years despite repeated efforts to be removed.
Vanderhulst said city officials indicated they err on the side of registering voters.
"If the checked [citizenship] boxes are blank, they still register them," he said. "That's how these people are getting on the rolls … It's just too easy. Maybe it's supposed to be easy — but the price of that seems to be no discretion on the front end."
Vanderhulst said he suspects other Pennsylvania counties operate in a similar manner, and therefore have irregularities in their voter registration rolls. He pointed to the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, designed to make motor-vehicle offices one-stop shops for driver's licenses and voter registration cards. But since non-citizens can get driver's licenses, that has led to confusion, he said.
"My gut [feeling] on it is the culprit here is motor-voter [policies]," he said.
In addition to non-citizens, the report also details that Philadelphia officials make no effort to remove voters who have been imprisoned for felonies or even move those names to the inactive-voter list.
"City of Philadelphia election officials behave as if Pennsylvania law prohibiting certain felons from voting doesn't even exist," the report states. "This is rank lawlessness."
Vanderhulst said the law allows voters incarcerated on misdemeanor charges to request absentee ballots to be sent to corrections facilities or halfway houses, but felons cannot. He said elections officials in Philadelphia have no way of knowing whether a request is legitimate or not.
With 49,914 prisoners in Pennsylvania in 2015, he said, there are many possibilities for illegal voting.
Progressive activists and many academics continue to argue that voter fraud is a myth propagated by conservatives whose true goal is to suppress legitimate votes. But Vanderhulst said the reaction of Philadelphia officials fits with a larger pattern: Elections authorities often fail to examine the integrity of the voter rolls before elections or audit the ballots cast after them.
And in the rare instances in which people are found to have illegally voted, prosecutions are rare. Vanderhulst said he is not aware of a single instance in which Philadelphia elections officials referred a case for prosecution.
The evidence now should be clear that illegal voting is not something that is so rare as to almost never occur, Vanderhulst said.
"It's basically just denial," he said.