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Inactive voters in Westmoreland, Allegheny counties notified of pending purge

| Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Voters waited in line for approximately 45-60 minutes to cast their vote at the Christ Lutheran Church on Logan's Ferry Road in Murrysville.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune Review
Voters waited in line for approximately 45-60 minutes to cast their vote at the Christ Lutheran Church on Logan's Ferry Road in Murrysville.
President Donald Trump speaks during the 2017 'Congress of Tomorrow' Joint Republican Issues Conference in Philadelphia on January 26, 2017.
REUTERS
President Donald Trump speaks during the 2017 'Congress of Tomorrow' Joint Republican Issues Conference in Philadelphia on January 26, 2017.

Elections bureaus in Westmoreland and Allegheny counties have notified thousands of inactive registered voters that they could be purged from the voting rolls.

The move comes as President Donald Trump presses on unsubstantiated claims that as many as 5 million people improperly cast ballots in November's general election. Trump announced this week he's ordering a major investigation into instances of noncitizens and the dead voting, and individuals registered to vote in more than one state.

The letters issued this week to more than 5,700 Westmoreland County and more than 11,100 Allegheny County voters about their potential removal from the voting rolls are not connected to Trump's initiative; rather, they are part of standard practice in Pennsylvania, where state law mandates that county election officers perform voter registration list maintenance at least once a year.

National experts maintain there's no evidence of widespread illegal voting, especially not on the scale Trump alleges.

Dartmouth College Professor of Government Michael C. Herron is part of a research team that used county-level aggregate data to search for statistical evidence of noncitizen voting, unusual voting returns and other potential issues. The team found no evidence of fraud, nor abnormalities identified by Trump and others as particularly problematic, including in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, all of which Trump won.

“We don't find any evidence with any of these claims,” he said. “And the bigger the fraud, the easier it is to find it, statistically speaking.”

Trump was the first Republican to win Pennsylvania in nearly two decades. Despite his Electoral College win, the new president has for weeks bristled that he lost the national popular tally by roughly 3 million votes.

Pennsylvania Department of State spokeswoman Wanda Murren said state officials would not directly comment on the president's voter fraud allegations. In an email response to questions, she said the department of state monitors county compliance with statutorily mandated voter registration maintenance practices.

The department maintains a registered voter database which counties are required to regularly update in an effort to eliminate duplicate registrations.

The department also issues deceased-person notifications to county elections bureaus and provides them the files used to send list-maintenance letters — like those issued this week by Allegheny and Westmoreland counties — to voters who move without notifying elections bureaus or who don't vote in a five-year period, Allegheny County spokeswoman Amie Downs said in an email.

Inactive voters who receive letters this week won't be purged from voting lists until 2021. They'll remain on the rolls if they cast a ballot before then, said Beth Lechman, director of the Westmoreland County Elections Bureau.

Pennsylvania purged nearly 250,000 voters from its rolls last year, including more than 7,100 in Westmoreland County and almost 19,000 in Allegheny County.

The state last year joined the Electronic Registration Information Center, a consortium of 21 states and Washington, D.C., that overseas voting rolls and shares information with its members about voters who move from state to state or are no longer eligible to vote for reasons such as death.

The state paid a one-time membership fee of $25,000 to join. Annual dues cost $64,810, said John Lindback, executive director of the Pew Foundation's Electronic Registration Information Center. For that cash, the state has unlimited access to databases of voters from other states in the consortium as well as national change-of-address information from the U.S. Post Office.

Lindback said the consortium was created in part to help states track voters who move from one state to another but noted that being registered in multiple states does not create an intent to commit fraud or cast illegal votes.

“It was formed not only to inoculate a state against fraud but also helps members be informed and to notify them about people who have moved,” Lindback said.

Murren said the Pew data are used ensure the legitimacy of the state's voting rolls.

She added there's no concern that non-citizens voted in Pennsylvania.

“Non-citizens have no incentive to vote because they face the very real risk of serious penalties, including deportation,” she said.

District attorney offices in Allegheny, Westmoreland and Washington counties during the lead-up to the general election reported very few cases of voter fraud in their counties during the past two decades. They said concerns raised by then-candidate Trump about a “rigged” election in November were unwarranted.

Election officials in Western Pennsylvania reported no unusual problems on Election Day.

Incidents of fraud in past elections are “isolated and rare,” Lindback said.

“Usually people who lose elections make an allegation of voter fraud, not the winner,” Lindback said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com. Staff writer Michael Walton contributed.

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