The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania must release records pertaining to a “glitch” within its Department of Transportation that allowed non-citizens to register to vote in the state for decades, according to a new ruling from a U.S. district court.
In a March 31 opinion authored by Judge Christopher Conner, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania ruled that under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), The Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) is entitled access to documents detailing the prevalence of the issue and actions taken by the commonwealth to address the errors in the state’s voting files.
“The expansive obligation under NVRA to disclose voting registration records gives rise to legitimate privacy concerns. 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,” Conner wrote. “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.”
In 2017, authorities discovered an error within the computer system of the state’s Department of Transportation that allowed “non-United States citizens applying for or renewing a driver’s license to register to vote in the Commonwealth.” As a result, the government undertook a series of analyses to ascertain the extent to which the glitch allowed noncitizens onto the Commonwealth’s voter registration lists,” which included a “noncitizen matching analysis” conducted by an outside expert.
Although Pennsylvania had previously disclosed to PILF a list of “1,160 purported noncitizens who requested to be removed from the voter registration lists,” the state attempted to hide the voting histories of registrants by redacting the list. As a result of the court ruling, however, the commonwealth will now be required to turn over such information to PILF.
“The Commonwealth must disclose the voting histories of the 1,160 noncitizens who requested cancellation,” the court stated.
Among the records sought by PILF include all documents related to “registrants who the Commonwealth identified as potentially not satisfying the citizenship requirements for registration since January 1, 2006,” and “noncitizens who requested removal from voter registration lists since January 1, 2006.”
Additional information requested by the watchdog group are records “provided by jury-selection officials to the Commonwealth referencing individuals who attempted to avoid jury duty by claiming to be noncitizens,” as well as those “relating to any communication between the Commonwealth and law enforcement concerning alleged noncitizen voting or voter registration.”
While the ruling affirms that Pennsylvania must turn over the majority of such documents to PILF, the court did stipulate that the state had “met its burden” of providing records related to the “noncitizen matching analysis.”
“The Commonwealth has met its burden of showing the records in question are protected by the work-product doctrine because all relevant evidence supports the Commonwealth’s assertion that the expert conducted the noncitizen matching analysis in preparation of possible litigation,” the opinion reads.
A previous lawsuit from PILF seeking similar documents filed in 2019 was struck down by the same district court, with Conner arguing that while “PILF falls within NVRA’s ‘zone of interests’ and had standing,” the organization “failed to comply with the statute’s notice requirements.”
Following the court’s March 31 ruling, PILF President J. Christian Adams applauded the decision, saying that it is a “monumental victory for election integrity.”
“Americans have a right to documents exposing government malfeasance and non-citizens being registered and even voting,” he said. “Pennsylvania spent four years fighting transparency and trying to hide their mistakes. It is sad that transparency in Pennsylvania elections had to be enforced by a court.”