Pennsylvania Ordered to Release Non-Citizen Voting Records

A federal judge in Pennsylvania has ruled that the state must turn over records regarding an administrative “glitch” that allowed non-U.S. citizens to register to vote for decades.

Judge Christopher Conner of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania ordered on March 31 that the material must be disclosed pursuant to the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). The order comes in a lawsuit filed by the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) seeking access to the records.

In his ruling, Judge Connor wrote that Congress decided in enacting the NVRA that “transparency in how states determine voter eligibility” is the “vital bedrock” of America’s electoral system. In balancing privacy and transparency, he said Congress determined disclosure is “generally paramount.”

The problems with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s computer system were first discovered in 2017. The error allowed non-U.S. citizens to register to vote when going through a routine application for or renewal of a driver’s license.

When the error was discovered, the state government began an analysis to determine how many non-citizens had been improperly allowed to register to vote. An outside expert firm was contracted to conduct a “noncitizen matching analysis” of the state voter registration lists.

When PILF first requested records having to do with the errors, the state provided a list of 1,160 noncitizens who requested to be removed from voter registration rolls. However, the state refused to provide information about the voting records of improperly registered voters. The court has now ordered that those redactions be lifted.

PILF has also asked for documents generated since 2006 related to all registrants determined to be ineligible noncitizens. The group has also asked for documents related to persons who were called for jury duty as a result of being registered and who sought to avoid serving as jurors because of their noncitizen status. Records related to communications with law enforcement officials about noncitizen voting have also been requested.

The court found that PILF is entitled to public disclosure of most of the records but protected much of the “noncitizen matching analysis” from being turned over. The work done by the outside expert was deemed to largely be “work-product” that was produced from public records in anticipation of potential litigation.

PILF President J. Christian Adams praised the court’s ruling, calling it a “monumental victory for election integrity.” He added that it is unfortunate that election transparency in Pennsylvania had to be enforced by a federal court.