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Lowman Henry: A Wolf hiding in Penn's Wood

| Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Former Pennsylvania top elections official, Secretary of the Commonwealth Pedro Cortes, speaks during a news conference in Harrisburg. (AP Photo)
Former Pennsylvania top elections official, Secretary of the Commonwealth Pedro Cortes, speaks during a news conference in Harrisburg. (AP Photo)

The integrity of Pennsylvania's election system, along with Gov. Tom Wolf's carefully cultivated image of government transparency, has been called into question as state election officials and even the governor have stonewalled legislators in the wake of a surprise Cabinet resignation days after voter irregularities became public.

Just prior to the 2016 presidential election, J. Christian Adams, who served in the voting rights section of the U.S. Department of Justice before becoming a fair-election advocate, appeared before the Pennsylvania House of Representatives' State Government Committee. Adams revealed a number of foreign nationals, legally in the country but not yet U.S. citizens, had self-reported they had registered to vote and some, in fact, had cast ballots.

That opened the door to further scrutiny, which found at least 220 foreign nationals had illegally registered to vote in Philadelphia. State election officials confirmed the problem was not limited to the City of Brotherly Love, but that statewide, over 1,000 foreign nationals had self-reported that they had illegally registered to vote and/or voted.

In an effort to get answers, state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, who chairs the State Government Committee, asked the Pennsylvania Department of State — the agency that oversees elections — if there was a procedure in place to cross-check the state's voter registration rolls with driver's licenses. Foreign nationals can legally obtain a driver's license, but their status as noncitizens is so noted in the application process.

To date, the department has not verified whether or not such cross-checking has occurred. Metcalfe further pointed out that there is no procedure in place for verifying U.S. citizenship in the voter registration process. Thus, there is no way of actually knowing how many illegal voters are on the rolls.

Adding to the intrigue was the abrupt resignation of Pedro Cortes, secretary of the Department of State, days after media reports spotlighting the foreign-national problem. Wolf, who pledged a greater level of government transparency in his administration, has refused to disclose why Cortes resigned.

Cabinet secretaries must be confirmed by the state Senate and, especially when dealing with election integrity, have a further obligation to be transparent with the public. In a year when a statewide judicial election was decided by about 5,000 votes, even a relatively small number of illegal ballots cast could sway an election.

The governor and his administration have a history of failing to take prudent steps to ensure the integrity of the state's election system. The Department of State's refusal to comply with the State Government Committee request for information and the governor's lack of candor over the Cortes resignation have added at least to the perception that something is amiss in Penn's Wood.

The House should take whatever action is needed to compel testimony from the Department of State. Lawmakers are elected by we the people to represent us, and appointed bureaucrats should not be allowed to refuse to answer whatever questions they might have.

Likewise, it is time for Wolf to give a full and complete explanation for the departure of Cortes. In the public realm, perception is reality. And right now, the perception is they are hiding something.

Lowman Henry is chairman and CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.

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