About 26,000 people across Pennsylvania — 17,000 in Philadelphia alone — may not have received voter registration cards until after the November Presidential election because their voter registration applications were processed late, according to a new report released this week by a nonpartisan conglomerate of organizations that advocate for election reform.
The report released by Keystone Votes, a group of about 40 organizations, cited data from the Pennsylvania Department of State and concluded that thousands of Pennsylvanians who attempted to register to vote on time may not have received any confirmation that their registration was approved prior to Nov. 8, 2016. The group also reported that due to the late processing, those people may have been “relegated” to supplemental voter rolls, instead of appearing in the main voter roll book at their polling location.
That doesn’t mean those 26,000 people were disenfranchised from the voting process. But Keystone Votes claims the handling could have presented barriers to voting. Patrick Christmas, the policy program manager at the Philadelphia-based, nonpartisan Committee of Seventy, said county election officials are responsible for processing these applications.
“In high-turnout, high-profile election years, thousands [of applications] are submitted, and it’s a challenge,” Christmas said. “But this is a tremendous number of forms that were not punched into the system on time.”
Analysts with Keystone Votes say they reviewed Department of State data requested by the Public Interest Law Center that indicated when voter registration applications were either approved or denied. They found that statewide, 55,708 applications weren’t finalized by counties until after Oct. 31, 2016. Of those, about 46 percent were eventually added to the rolls, and the remainder were deemed invalid, likely because the form was filled out incorrectly.
Even though that 46 percent — or about 26,000 people — were added to the voter rolls prior to Nov. 8, Keystone Votes says it’s likely those people did not receive their voter registration cards that serve to provide written verification of a person’s eligibility to vote, as well as their polling location information. The registrants not added to the “master voter file” until after Oct. 31, 2016 also may not have been included in pre-printed poll books used on Election Day, according to Keystone, and were likely instead put in a supplemental poll book.
“The supplemental poll book creates confusion for volunteer election workers, especially during high turnout presidential elections,” authors of the report wrote.
Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt said he had no way of verifying the claim that some 17,000 voter registration applications in Philadelphia were processed late, and he said “it isn’t possible to address these allegations without knowing how they arrived at their numbers.”
If the figures are correct, Schmidt said, the voter’s name would appear in the supplemental poll books provided to every election board. Those books are arranged alphabetical order, just like the main poll books, and election board workers are trained to check the supplemental poll book if a voter’s name doesn’t appear in the main poll book.
As for a voter registration card? Schmidt said pointed out that those cards aren’t required to vote.
Still, the report indicates Philly was ground zero for the late processing problem. Keystone Votes concluded that nearly 4 percent of “valid, on-time” voter registration applications submitted in Philly were processed late, by far the highest rate of any county in the state. Statewide, 0.4 percent of valid voter registration applications were processed late, according to the report.
The Keystone Votes report also highlighted the experiences of three separate Philadelphia organizations — Asian Americans United, Project HOME and Penn Law American Constitution Society — that ran voter registration drives and reported that voter registration applications they submitted to City Commissioners were not processed for weeks or months after they were submitted.
And no, the late processing wouldn’t have had an impact on the presidential outcome. President Donald Trump won Pennsylvania and its 20 electoral votes by garnering about 44,000 more votes than Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.