State representatives are trying to figure out how to stop voter registration glitches that have allowed over 500 non-citizens to vote in state and national elections since 2000.
That was the focus of a state government committee hearing Wednesday.
But after dissolving into partisan shouting matches several times, lawmakers left the session saying they don’t agree on how to handle the situation—or even how serious it is.
Over the last 17 years, roughly 93 million ballots have been cast in Pennsylvania. At least 544 of them came from non-US citizens who were in the country legally, according to the Department of State. That’s roughly one out of every 172,000.
But that number only includes people who reported they’d improperly registered. DOS officials said they’re looking into whether there are more.
Election Commissioner Jonathan Marks said the problem stems from a glitch that will be fixed soon.
Daryl Metcalfe, the Republican committee chair who initiated the hearing, said he thinks the DOS is withholding information about how many illegal votes have been cast.
“They know the people of Pennsylvania would be very offended to find out that there’s a large number of foreign nationals voting in our elections and canceling out rightful votes of our citizens,” Metcalfe said.
He also said he thinks the situation has something to do with former Secretary of State Pedro Cortes’ sudden, unexplained resignation this month—a theory that is not confirmed.
“We brought this to Secretary Cortes' attention a year ago,” Metcalfe said. “And then when they were asked why did he depart, well, they couldn’t say he didn’t depart because of this, which has been a lot of the speculation from many people, because his departure was so quick.”
Democratic Chair Matt Bradford—who Metcalfe briefly tried to eject from the hearing for interrupting testimony he took issue with—said the Republican chair is raising too much alarm.
“[This is] a discussion we can and should have,” Bradford said. “But Chairman Metcalfe makes it impossible to have a thoughtful discussion about a lot of tough issues.”
Philadelphia Democrat Donna Bullock, who also tangled with Metcalfe at the hearing, echoed Bradford, saying she thinks the level of illegal voting is being blown out of proportion.
“It’s still a small number [of illegal votes being cast],” she said. “What I learned more than anything is that our system still works, because there is a way to check this, see it, and now correct it.”
Metcalfe said he is now looking into getting subpoena power so his committee can continue probing DOS officials, including Cortez, who did not respond to Metcalfe’s invitation to testify Wednesday.