An election integrity group, PA Fair Elections, has filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Department of State’s Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation, claiming the Department of State is in violation of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) by failing to require overseas voters to provide identification when registering to vote.
The HAVA, passed in 2002, established minimum election standards for state and local governments in the administration of Federal elections.
The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), passed by Congress in 1986, allows absentee voting by members of the U.S. military and merchant marine; their family members; and U.S. citizens residing outside the United States. This includes people who have never lived in the United States and never intend to. People born overseas to U.S. citizens are themselves considered U.S. citizens and may vote in U.S. elections in some states. See a list of those states below.
The HAVA requires individuals to apply to register to vote, but the applicant may not be considered a voter until the application process is complete.
Minimum Voter Registration RequirementsHAVA requires voter registration applicants to provide their driver’s license number if they have one. If they don’t have a driver's license, they must provide the last four digits of their Social Security number.
HAVA makes the Secretary of State responsible for matching driver's licenses or Social Security numbers with official records to verify an applicant’s identity. Once that is done, the applicant is registered to vote and may receive a ballot.
If the applicant doesn’t have a driver's license or Social Security number, the state may assign a unique number, but that individual may not vote in a federal election unless they provide some other document to establish identity and eligibility.
Simply, you can’t be considered a voter before you are registered to vote, and you are not registered until your identification is verified.
But Pennsylvania is sending ballots to UOCAVA applicants before verifying their identification. In 2018, the DoS issued guidance telling local election officials, “Voter registrations may not be rejected based solely on a nonmatch between the applicant’s identifying numbers on their application and the comparison database numbers.”
If there are no independent grounds to reject a voter registration application other than a nonmatch, the application may not be rejected and must be processed like all other applications, the guidance says. Within 48 hours of receiving a Federal Post Card Application from UOCAVA applicants, counties must send a ballot back to applicants.
Ballot First, Vote, Then IdentificationThe DoS policy defers the HAVA identification verification and matching requirement from the time of registration to the time of casting a ballot for first-time overseas voters.
“The Pennsylvania Department of State has admitted that they do not verify identity of first-time oversea voters at the time of registration, but claim it is in compliance with HAVA by verifying identity and matching identification numbers prior to accepting an absentee ballot,” the complaint filed this week says.
Leigh Chapman, Then-acting Secretary of State, makes that case in an Oct. 28, 2022 letter to then-state Rep. Frank Ryan. Chapman now works at the Gorge Soros-founded Open Society Foundations as director of pro-democracy alliance and structural reform, to “expand and protect” voting rights.
“Under Pennsylvania law, a voter’s identification is verified either the first time they vote in person in an election district or each time they request a mail-in or absentee ballot,” Chapman’s letter said. “With respect to absentee and mail-in voting, when a voter requests a ballot, county boards of elections must ‘determine the qualifications of the applicant by verifying the proof of identification and comparing the information provided on the application with the information contained on the applicant's permanent registration card. This is primarily done through the automated HAVA verification process. Both provisions of the Election Code specifically state that: ‘For those applicants whose proof of identification was not provided with the application or could not be verified by the board, the board shall send notice to the elector with the absentee ballot requiring the elector to provide proof of identification with the absentee [or mail-in] ballot or the ballot will not be counted.’
Therefore, while the law requires counties to provide ballots to individuals pending verification of identity, the law also ensures that ballots submitted by voters who have not timely verified their identities will not be counted.”
But PA Fair Elections says ballots are incorrectly going to applicants, not verified voters, and that opens the system up for election fraud. The group is asking an administrative law judge to order DoS to issue a directive instructing counties to verify the identity and eligibility of all applicants requesting UOCAVA voting privileges.
“What we've seen is that progressive organizations are influencing Pennsylvania election officials to violate the law,” Attorney Erick Kaardal, a partner in the Minneapolis, Minnesota firm Mohrman, Kaardal & Erickson, P.A. said in a Zoom call. “Pennsylvania election officials have a duty to follow federal law...Pennsylvania doesn't have an agency overseeing that Pennsylvania election officials are following federal law. They're just supposed to do it. They are not doing it.”
The concern is, Kaardal said, do we want overseas voters who may, or may not be citizens, deciding close elections.” “We're talking about a lot of votes here and a lot of vulnerability, because people are allowed to solicit ballots by email without their identifications being verified,” Kaardal said. “It's not that much to ask of Pennsylvania State election officials to follow federal law. These are minimal verification requirements.”
Email ApplicationThe Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, sponsored in 2009 by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), requires all states to accept the Federal Post Card Application as both a voter registration form and an official request for an absentee ballot.
UOCAVA applicants who have never lived in the U.S. are not required to provide a Social Security number or a U.S.-issued driver’s license.
The application requests a U.S. address but says, “You do not need to have any current ties with this address.”
The applicant must provide a foreign address, which could be a layer of security, but applicants can choose to have the ballot delivered via email, meaning they could be sitting anywhere in the world and receive a ballot for U.S. Federal elections.
An email ballot is printed with a voter’s home computer and mailed in.
In the past, overseas voters were often called military voters. But, members of the military stationed outside the U.S. are no longer the majority. In the 2020 November election, there were approximately 27,000 votes through UOCAVA in Pennsylvania, according to the complaint filed. Approximately 7,000 of those votes were from members of the U.S. military or their family members, while 20,000 of those votes were from other overseas voters.
States That Accept 'Never Resided' VotesIn some states, U.S. citizens who were born abroad and have never resided in the United States are eligible to vote absentee. The following states allow these citizens to vote absentee:
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia