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PA Addresses Non-Citizen Voter Issue

HARRISBURG, PA (WHYY) -- State officials have sent letters to 7,702 registered voters in Pennsylvania who they have reason to believe may not be citizens, and thus ineligible to vote.

The number is far less than the 100,000 non-citizens that Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner, a state Senator from York County, was citing weeks ago, referring to stories in the Washington Examiner.

The issue grew out of a glitch in PennDOT's implementation of the national motor voter law.

For more than 20 years, people getting drivers licenses were offered the chance to register to vote, even if they'd just answered a question indicated they weren't citizens.

The problem was fixed last year after Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt raised the issue, but no one knew how many non-citizens had illegally, and probably inadvertently, registered.

Schmidt said officials of the Pennsylvania Department of State, which oversees elections, indicated in meetings with him and his staff that an initial data match showed the number could be as many as 100,000.

Department of State officials have said they don't regard that number as credible, but they've declined to say whether the 100,000 figure was used in a meeting with Schmidt's staff.

Friday afternoon, the department said in a statement that "an intense data analysis and process" had yielded "a responsible list" of registered voters "whose citizenship status merits further due diligence."

The 7,702 voters on the list were sent a letter clarifying the qualifications for registering to vote, and suggesting that anyone not meeting the qualifications contact their county election office.

Department spokeswoman Wanda Murren said she was unable to offer any further information about the analysis that produced the list.

Schmidt said in a telephone interview that the letters are a positive step, noting that he suggested doing just that when he identified the problem last year.

He said he can't offer an opinion about how complete the list of 7,702 voters is, since Department of State officials haven't described how it was generated.

Schmidt also said the mailing is too late to prevent registered non-citizens from voting in the May 15 primary election.

He noted that if non-citizens mistakenly cast a vote, they can jeopardize their chances to become citizens.

And, he said, allowing non-citizens to vote can undermine the integrity of the election.

"You might think that 8,000 people is not a big number," Schmidt said. "But we just had a Congressional race in Western Pennsylvania a few weeks ago that was decided by a couple hundred votes."