the Editorial Board, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Oct 14, 2017
Gov. Tom Wolf has declined to comment on the abrupt resignation of Secretary of State Pedro Cortes, calling it a “personnel matter.” Mr. Wolf’s reticence is disappointing. Because Mr. Cortes was responsible for overseeing the integrity of the state’s electoral process, recently called into question because of revelations that hundreds of immigrants were improperly registered to vote, his departure is a matter of public concern.
It’s important to ask whether Mr. Cortes’ resignation and the registration gaffe are related. If Mr. Wolf’s administration won’t provide the answer, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, should press for one during a House State Government Committee hearing he already had been planning to hold on the registration flap.
The hearing is scheduled for Oct. 25. To get to the bottom of things, he should invite Mr. Cortes, who took office when Mr. Wolf did in January 2015 and also held the position from 2003 to 2010 under former Gov. Ed Rendell. Mr. Cortes is well-respected in his field, having served as president of the National Association of Secretaries of State from 2008 to 2009.
The integrity of the nation’s electoral process has been a hot topic over the past year. Before and after his election, President Donald Trump alleged widespread voter fraud involving immigrants, even singling out Philadelphia as a trouble spot. Those allegations have been treated as without merit.
More recent are revelations about Russian hackers’ attempts to penetrate some localities’ voting systems, which has dropped into the public mind as yet another hard-to-believe aspect of the 2016 election and gets washed away in the next news cycle.
Word of problems coming out of Pennsylvania can only feed the conspiracy-minded. Pennsylvania’s problem, however, was of its own making. It’s a reminder that internal blunders potentially are as serious an issue as external threats.
Mr. Metcalfe said he was aware of the problem last year when he held a hearing on the state’s electoral system. He said he didn’t know how big a problem until last month, when Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt disclosed that, over the past 11 years, 317 voters in that part of the state contacted officials to cancel their registrations. All were immigrants living legally in Pennsylvania. Although ineligible to vote, many were added to the rolls while applying for or renewing driver’s licenses at state Department of Transportation driver services centers. Forty-four had voted in one election and 46 in more than one.
It turns out the problem wasn’t limited to Philadelphia. In Allegheny County, nearly 100 immigrants have canceled voter registrations since 2006. Often, county elections director Mark Wolosik said, they learned they were on the rolls improperly while going through the U.S. citizenship process. In all, Pennsylvania’s Department of State acknowledged having documentation of 1,160 registrations that were canceled because of ineligibility. But it wasn’t clear how many involved immigrants.
On Oct. 4, Mr. Metcalfe and 15 colleagues sent Mr. Cortes a letter demanding additional details and asking whether the Department of State had double-checked records to make sure no other immigrants were registered improperly. He was still waiting for an answer when Mr. Cortes resigned.
The Department of Transportation, which operates the driver’s center kiosks where people may register to vote, has some explaining to do, too. Registering to vote at the driver’s center is supposed to be a matter of convenience. In some instances, it appears to have been too convenient.
Pennsylvanians deserve to know exactly how ineligible residents made it onto the voting rolls and what steps are being taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Transparency is important here — and that includes speaking candidly about Mr. Cortes’ departure.