HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The right to vote is treasured by many Americans, and maintaining the integrity of the nation's elections is key to preserving its value.
A recent Pennsylvania House State Government committee hearing, however, raised questions about fraud , and challenged Pennsylvania's Department of State to explain how hundreds of non-citizens were able to vote in past elections.
Pennsylvania's Department of State oversees elections in the Commonwealth. A review of the state's Motor Voter registration process found that more than 1,100 non-citizens stepped forward to say they had registered to vote, illegally.
League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania executive director Suzanne Almeida said "these are people that self reported, and said 'whoops, I accidentally registered. Can you please pull me off the rolls? So, it's pretty clear this is not a fraud issue."
Since 1,160 people self-identified themselves as illegally registered to vote, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler County) wants to know, could there be more?
"Do we have a number that tells us, how many people have illegally registered to vote, based on them being foreign nationals that have been issued driver's licenses and then showing up in our sure system database," Metcalfe said.
Meanwhile, officials with the Department of State are examining every part of the voter registration process to answer Metcalfe's question.
Department of State Commissioner, Bureau of Commissions, Elections, and Legislation Jonanthan Marks said "I think it would be irresponsible at this point, before we work through all of the legal considerations, and technical considerations, to throw out a number."
Officials with the Department of State do cite, however, that its analysis of elections between the year 2000 and 2017 found 544 ballots were cast illegally by non-citizens. That's out of 93.6 million ballots in nearly two decades. Essentially, that breaks down to 0.0000058 percent of illegal ballots since the year 2000.
"An infinitesimal percentage. There are problems with our election system that we need to look at and fix. We need to update our voting technology. We need to make sure that the process for registering voters is clear, and catches everything that possibly could fall through the cracks," Almeida said.
Officials at the Department of State say they're taking action to prevent non-citizens from accidentally registering to vote by working with PennDOT to add more languages to the registration process, make the question of 'Are You a Citizen?' as a stand-alone question , and fix the communication of citizen status between the PennDOT licensing system and the Motor Voter system. The question is, is it enough for Metcalfe?
"The letter that he responded with was not satisfactory in any way, in answering our questions," Metcalfe said.
"These shouldn't be hard to answer, especially, because we asked these types of questions, and we probed this problem a year ago," Metcalfe added.
"It's important that our voter rolls are accurate, right? We want eligible voters to vote. We want only eligible voters to vote, because that's the way our democracy works, but focusing on things that have been fixed, doesn't help us make our elections safer, more secure, and more accurate in the future," Almeida said.
Former Secretary of State Pedro Cortes abruptly resigned in early October. This came just a few weeks before the House State Government committee meeting about this issue in late October.
Governor Tom Wolf has not said if there was a connection, as no explanation was given for Cortes'Is resignation.