By City Commissioner Lisa Deeley
President Donald Trump, as a candidate and as president of the United States, has made a number of unsubstantiated claims regarding “voter fraud” surrounding the 2016 presidential election. The President contends votes of as many as 3 million people were illegitimate. If this were true, it would be the largest case of voter fraud ever committed in the history of the United States. The reality is President Trump’s claims are simply not true – widespread voter fraud conducted by 3 million people would be near impossible to pull off.
The Philadelphia Voter Registration Unit, which is overseen by the City Commissioners of Philadelphia, implements a series of procedures to be completed when a voter registration application is received.
Employees determine if the application is new, meaning the application was filled out by a person who is not in our Pennsylvania SURE (Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors) system in any capacity. If the applicant is already in SURE, employees look to see if they are attempting to make changes to their registration, be it a change in political party, change in address, or a change in name. From there, a number of steps are taken, on a countywide and statewide level, to ensure the applicant’s information is correct and verifiable.
For instance, if an applicant was attempting to commit voter fraud by registering to vote at multiple addresses throughout the state of Pennsylvania, our employees in the Voter Registration Unit would simply process their application as a change of address. They would not be registered in more than one county in Pennsylvania.
It is possible a voter could be registered in more than one state at a given time — such as Tiffany Trump, Jared Kushner, Sean Spicer and Stephen Bannon are — but it is the responsibility of the voter to contact their county’s voter-registration department when they move to a different state, to be removed from the voter rolls. It is not illegal for a person to be registered in two states; it only becomes illegal and is considered voter fraud if the person votes in both of those states. Last year, the American Civil Rights Union filed a federal lawsuit against the Philadelphia City Commissioners Office, claiming the voter registration rolls were bloated. What ACRU didn’t understand was that the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, the NVRA, best known for requiring most states to provide an opportunity to register to vote at motor vehicle bureaus and public assistance offices, also requires states to keep voter registration lists accurate and current. It prohibits states from doing list maintenance within 90 days prior to a federal election, and sets standards for when names can be removed from the rolls. Voters move around.
Since voter rolls don’t clean themselves, someone has to do it. With that in mind, the 2002 Help America Vote Act proscribed list maintenance procedures which mandated and provided for the protection of the rights of voters.
Furthermore, under Act 3 of 2002, the PA Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors (SURE) was established as a centralized voter registration and election management system designed to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the Commonwealth’s voter registration records maintained by election authorities in Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. The SURE system is a platform that supports the critical functions of the Commonwealths elections in determining voter eligibility, assigning precincts, and producing poll books.
The Philadelphia Office of the City Commissioners is a user of SURE, which is operated and maintained by the Pennsylvania Dept. of State. The City Commissioners’ Office use of SURE, a centralized uniform registry which is accessible to all county offices, greatly enhances the accuracy and integrity of the voter registration rolls and quality of voter services in Pennsylvania.
The aforementioned Federal and State Acts — HAVA, NVRA, and Act 3 — also prescribe guidelines for voter-registration list maintenance. The ability to “clean up” the rolls is mandated by these acts. There are baseline requirements for list maintenance aimed at addressing the following criteria: death, moving to another jurisdiction, a request from the voter to cancel the registration, a felony conviction (notification of convictions by courts), and a declaration of incompetency under state law. A registered voter is marked as inactive by the county after having been sent a mailing by the county for failure to vote in five years and then fails to respond.
Philadelphia, as a user of the SURE system, utilizes these list-maintenance procedures as prescribed by law. By utilizing these voter-registration list-maintenance programs as prescribed by law, not only does it provide us with the tools to maintain voter-registration rolls, but also protects the rights of our voters, which should be paramount.
Donald Trump has no evidence to support his claims that millions of people committed voter fraud in the 2016 election that brought him to the presidency. He shows a lack of understanding of the federal and state laws that guide election officials in ensuring that elections run smoothly, and that every eligible person who shows up to vote is able to express their voice. Trump’s claims make it much harder to encourage the American people to get involved in the political process and get to know their government. The more people partake in the democratic process and vote, the less voter fraud will be likely to occur.
President Trump should focus his energy on encouraging voter turnout, especially among the younger populations. I am open to discussing ways in which we can improve turnout rates among all populations. Claims of widespread voter fraud by the president of the United States further discourage and disenfranchise citizens when we need them to get involved the most.