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I See Dead People (On Pennsylvania’s Voter Rolls)

Dead Voters Litter Pennsylvania's Voter Rolls

A long-standing complaint from election integrity activists in Pennsylvania is the number of dead voters still on the voter rolls. The subject of cleaning up the voter registration lists is either dismissed as unnecessary or gets bogged down on who is supposed to be responsible for maintaining the voter registration files. Without getting into all the legal specifics, county election commissions point to the PA Department of State. The PA Department of State points to the county commissions for bearing responsibility, and nothing gets resolved.

How many dead voters are still on the books? According to a lawsuit filed by the Public Interest Law Firm (PILF), there are at least 21,000 people who have died but remain registered to vote. The good news is that PILF and the PA Department of State settled at the beginning of April to address the problem, at least partially. According to PILF’s website, here is what the Department of State has agreed to do:

  • Before the 2021 statewide general election, the death data set received from the Electronic Registration Information Center will be compared to the full voter registration database to identify individuals who are ineligible to vote due to their death.
  • The Pennsylvania Department of State will give each county commission the names of the individuals identified as deceased and inform the commissions that they should promptly cancel the registrations.
  • The Department of State will provide PILF with copies of the full voter export at three-month intervals on three separate occasions—May 30, 2021, August 31, 2021, and November 30, 2021.

Although these are significant first steps, it is curious and disappointing that it took a lawsuit for the Department of State to take these modest steps. Oddly, this settlement received virtually no publicity, and the Department of State didn’t bother to issue a press release that we were able to find.

It is also worth noting that there are items in the settlement that are concerning. First, this is a one-time agreement. Nothing in the settlement requires the Department of State to provide the deceased person information to counties in the future. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the county election commissions don’t appear obligated to clean up their voter registration rolls with the data that the Department of State sends them. In other words, the Department of State sends the list of the dead voters, and counties can sit on it.

To learn more about the settlement and answer some of these questions, Leo Knepper, CEO of CAP, spoke with Linda Kerns, one of the attorneys who secured the settlement for PILF. You can find that video below.