731 Pennsylvania voters may have cast 2 ballots or voted elsewhere, secretary of state says
More than 700 Pennsylvania voters might have cast two ballots in recent elections, the secretary of State said Thursday.
The figures show “there's potential voter fraud in Pennsylvania,” said Carol Aichele, who added she is powerless to investigate or prosecute double voters.
Voter registration and election fraud experts said double voting is rare.
“What we usually discover is that those cases of double voting usually melt down to one or two if any at all,” said Charles Stewart, a political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies voter fraud.
Data from the Kansas-based Interstate Voter Registration Data Crosscheck, a multistate coalition that agreed to work together to clean voter registration rolls of voters who have moved or died, found that 731 Pennsylvanians potentially cast two votes in Pennsylvania or a vote in Pennsylvania and a vote in another participating state in the 2012 election.
Barack Obama won Pennsylvania by nearly 300,000 votes in that election.
Nearly 43,000 voters in Pennsylvania had potentially duplicate registrations in either Pennsylvania or other states, the project found. The secretary of State shared lists of duplicate registrations with counties in November, said Ron Ruman, a Department of State spokesman.
Pennsylvania joined the coalition in August 2013. Twenty eight states share voter registration data. Voters are matched by their names, birth dates and Social Security numbers, Ruman said.
Aichele said the data show that potential double voting occurred in both parties and across the state.
The Pennsylvania secretary of State is charged with overseeing elections but can't investigate or prosecute double voters. It is up to local police, county district attorneys or the state Attorney General to investigate and prosecute, Ruman said.
The state's election code makes it a third-degree felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine for someone convicted of voting more than once in the same election.
Allegheny County had 10,140 duplicate registrations, the highest in the state. Data show voters might have voted twice in Allegheny County, but Mark Wolosik, manager of the county's Division of Elections, doubts that's the case. Wolosik said he spotted inconsistencies in the data. The county intends to investigate each name before deciding whether fraud occurred.
“The best practice in these situations is to start with these lists of matches and investigate them,” Stewart said. “Voting fraud is very rare.”
A person in Philadelphia named “Joe Cheeseboro” voted twice in a 2007 election, according to a report by the city's election commissioner. A Democratic congressional candidate in Maryland withdrew from the 2012 race when allegations arose that she voted in Maryland and Florida in previous elections.
John Lindback, the executive director of the Electronic Registration Information Center, a Washington group similar to the Kansas-led coalition, said cleaning up voter rolls saves counties money and voters time at the polls.
“The concern is that it opens the door that someone can vote more than once,” Lindback said of duplicate registrations. “People worry about a potential for fraud, but really what it's about is a waste of time and money.”
Allegheny County will first complete the state-required five-year voter check before starting to check the duplicate list, Wolosik said. Washington and Westmoreland counties have started the process of mailing letters to names on the duplicate list. Butler County sent letters to its 648 duplicate voters, said elections Director Shari A. Brewer.
“We're getting a lot back that a lot of people have moved out of state, but we haven't found any yet that have voted in both places,” Brewer said.
Aichele said Florida and New Jersey aren't part of the voluntary project, or the numbers might have been higher in Pennsylvania. Some Pennsylvania residents spent winter months in Florida. New Jersey is a likely state where some Philadelphia voters might vote a second time, she said.
Brad Bumsted and Aaron Aupperlee are staff writers for Trib Total Media.