After Non-Citizen Voter Registration Scandal, PA SOS Resigns Abruptly

In a surprise move, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Pedro Cortes resigned late Wednesday.  The reasons for his resignation are mysterious, but many speculate that the registration of non-citizens through the "motor voter" system is to blame:

Cortes’ departure was announced in a 349-word “personnel update” emailed from Gov. Wolf’s office that offered no reason and focused almost entirely on his replacement, interim Secretary of State Robert Torres. . . . J.J. Abbott, a spokesman for Wolf, said he could not offer an explanation for Cortes’ departure. 

As secretary of state, Cortes served as the state’s top election official. His departure comes a week after State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, chairman of the House State Government Committee, and 15 of his colleagues sent Cortes a letter “to express our dire concerns” about the disclosure three weeks ago that legal resident noncitizens in Pennsylvania had been offered the chance to register to vote while applying for or renewing drivers’ licenses at PennDot service centers. . . .

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for non-citizens to be placed on the voter registration rolls through the "motor voter" program, an NVRA requirement that requires the DMV (or similar agency) to offer the opportunity to register to vote.  What is striking in Pennsylvania is that the problem derived from the structure of the DMV process, and large numbers of the registered non-citizens had voted:

The Department of State then said it had records of 1,160 canceled voter registrations listing ineligibility as a reason and said the issue was under review. . . . [Philadelphia City Commissioner Al] Schmidt said his staff traced the problem for 168 of the 220 documented cases to PennDot centers, where they produced immigration documents  to show they were in this country legally and eligible for a driver’s license. 

Later in the process, the applicants were asked to check a box on an electronic kiosk if they also wanted to register to vote. . . . The Department of State last month said it started changing the order of questions on the PennDot kiosks in August 2016 to address the problem.

While it is commendable that Pennsylvania has finally taken steps to resolve what Gov. Wolf's office calls a "glitch," it is remarkable that a system that allowed people to register to vote after they had proven their ineligibility lasted for so many years. 

This may just be the tip of the iceberg.  The cases that have been reported and investigated are from people who requested to be removed from the voter rolls due to ineligibility.  There may be many more non-citizens who were registered through the "motor voter" process who remain on the rolls and are still voting.

And two days later, the mystery surrounding Secretary Cortes' resignation remains, leaving us to wonder what more will come out about non-citizen registration and voting in Pennsylvania in the coming weeks.