GOP wants personal voter data to uncover fraud. Pa. already uses a more secure system. | Spotlight pa


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HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania has spent nearly half a million dollars in the past six years finding and removing obsolete registrations from its voter database.

In the weeks since a far-reaching subpoena was approved for access to sensitive voter information, the GOP lawmakers have claimed, for those efforts, that the vast amount of data is required to identify voters who should not have cast their votes in November 2020 or in the May elections 2021.

The investigating senators have not set out how they will prove a voter is “illegal” if they suspect fraud, nor have they admitted that Pennsylvania has already paid $ 403,904 for access to an elaborate care program Has issued voter rolls that regularly analyzes Republicans say they are looking.

In support of the investigation, Senate Republicans have alleged that the “validity” of ballots cast in previous elections needs to be investigated, although several court cases have found no evidence of widespread fraud. You have often referred to a 2019 general auditor report showing potential inaccuracies in date of birth and duplicate information in less than 1% of voter registrations.

The then State Department declined the Auditor General’s analysis, saying it had “incorrectly flagged thousands of records as potential concerns.”

The same general auditor’s report recommended as one of the possible solutions to uncover and correct inaccurate voter registrations that Pennsylvania make greater use of its membership in the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a consortium of states that creates and maintains the listing program.

In the years since then, the State Department has used almost all of the electoral roll maintenance functions offered to ERIC members – with one exception.

Due to a provision in state electoral law, Pennsylvania cannot use the death records service, which would automatically identify active voter registrations for likely dead Pennsylvania residents.

“We need a legal solution to use the ERIC death record,” said State Department spokeswoman Wanda Murren. “Pennsylvania law is very specific about the sources that can provide ‘proper evidence’ that a voter has died.”

Under the law, the State Department can only remove a voter registration for a deceased person through a manual process, e.g.

The state has only used ERIC’s death records once to resolve a dispute. The Public Interest Legal Foundation, a conservative nonprofit that regularly sues states for alleged inaccuracies in voter registration, sued Pennsylvania in October 2020, claiming 21,000 dead Pennsylvanians remained on the electoral roll.

To settle the lawsuit, the State Department agreed to use ERIC’s death records to identify voter registrations for Pennsylvanians likely to have died. Using the tool, Pennsylvania found 5,095 registrations for likely dead voters and sent them to counties for follow-up, Murren said.

Such an agreement, which uses a method otherwise forbidden under state law, is legal, said Michael Dimino, professor of suffrage at Widener University’s Commonwealth Law School, because the two parties were at odds over whether state law was compatible with state voter protection laws . create an ambiguity.

Senator Cris Dush (R., Jefferson), who took over the election investigation in August and renewed it after months of inactive, said any legal corrections to the voter registration system would be made after the investigation was completed.

“It makes sense to fix as many issues as possible after the investigation is complete so we can fix any other vulnerabilities in the system that we uncover in the course of our review,” he wrote in an email to Spotlight PA.

When asked how the Republican-led investigation would be different from maintaining the electoral roll that the state is already paying for, Dush made no response, referring to the findings in the 2019 general auditor’s report.

“We don’t know why there are these discrepancies. As the investigation continues, we hope to identify the vulnerability in the system that allows these anomalies to persist in the system, ”Dush wrote.

This is how ERIC works

A group of seven states – with the help of the Pew Charitable Trust, a non-partisan nonprofit – created the ERIC in 2012 to accommodate the daily changes in voter registrations as people move, die, and change their names.

The patchwork of federal and state laws governing how and when voter registrations can be removed from the registers, and the maintenance that election administrators face, are “a real challenge,” said Shane Hamlin, ERIC executive director.

“On any given day, your electoral roll is out of date,” said Hamlin. “They are only as up-to-date as your ability to keep up with the rate of change in these records, and ERIC provides these tools.”

Pennsylvania joined the consortium in 2015 and is now one of 30 member states plus Washington, DC that provide data to ERIC to improve the quality of their electoral rolls.

With ERIC’s tools, states like Pennsylvania receive regular reports when a voter moves to another city or state, changes their name, or dies. States can then use these reports to either notify voters and update their registrations, or to confirm a death and remove the person entirely.

In 2020, State Department and county electoral officials used ERIC reports to contact more than 90,000 voters who may have moved within the state, to another state, or registered more than once in Pennsylvania.

ERIC compares its members’ collective records to other databases – such as social security numbers, Department of Motor Vehicles records, and changes of address – to determine if a voter registration needs to be updated or removed.

Members anonymize sensitive information such as birth dates, driver’s license numbers, and social security numbers before submitting it to the ERIC system, so the software can never access the information itself.

That makes the theft and exploitation of the data “almost impossible,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Research & Innovation, which deals with election administration. Becker helped the seven founding states create ERIC while working for Pew.

“To decrypt this information, you need two separate code keys that are stored in two different locations,” said Becker. “It’s a lot easier to just break into the DMV database.”

In response to outcry from Democrats and electoral security experts, Republicans have declared that any personal data received by the Senate Interstate Operations Committee in response to the subpoena will be securely stored and that any vendor tasked with analyzing private voter information will have a nondisclosure agreement will sign.

“The committee will do everything in its power to ensure that the provider processing this information is keeping private information exactly as it is – private,” Dush wrote recently.

For now, Republicans have agreed to hire a vendor to analyze voter data until the Commonwealth Court questions the Senate committee’s powers to enforce the subpoena.

Senate Democrats, Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Senator Art Haywood (D., Montgomery) filed separate lawsuits, which have since been consolidated into one case. All parties filed an accelerated review motion on Wednesday pending a decision.


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