A local citizens group advocating for election integrity filed a complaint Tuesday with an administrative law judge claiming the Pennsylvania Department of State is violating federal election law at the behest of progressive nonprofit groups.
At issue are thousands of overseas ballots from nonmilitary people, who may or may not be U.S. citizens or former Pennsylvania residents.
At a virtual press conference, lawyers representing a group called PA Fair Elections said federal election law does require nonmilitary overseas voters to provide identification, such as a copy of their driver’s license or Social Security card, to vote. While military members are not required to show ID, other overseas voters are under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizen Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA).
“What we’re hoping is to protect the military vote,” said Heather Honey, an investigator with PA Fair Elections. “The Supreme Court has long said the dilution of a vote is just as bad as not letting somebody vote at all. I think we should all be able to agree that it is really important that we protect our military voters and make sure their ballots are counted fairly.”
According to Verity Vote, 63 percent of voters using UOCAVA are not in the military or military families.
“Heather (Honey) has revealed an intentional violation of law by Pennsylvania election officials,” said lawyer Erick Kaardal with the Minneapolis-based public interest firm Mohrman, Kaardal & Erickson. “What we’ve seen are progressive organizations are influencing Pennsylvania election officials to violate the law…Pennsylvania election officials have to follow federal law.”
“They’re not doing it because of the undue influence of these progressive organizations to violate the law,” he said. “And here the concern is, do we want overseas voters who may or may not be citizens, may or may not have ever resided in the state, may or may not have been eligible, to vote? Do we want them deciding close elections?
“Elections in Pennsylvania in a particular school district or city can come down to a handful of votes. 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. And it’s not that much to ask of Pennsylvania election officials to follow federal law. These are minimal verification requirements,” Kaardal said. “They are refusing to do it in an open and notorious way, even in legislative testimony.”
“We’re attempting to establish a principle that should be pretty fundamental,” Kaardal added. “That is, Pennsylvania officials have to follow federal law.”
Once they have won this case, they will take the ruling to other states that are not adhering to federal law, said Kaardal. “Stop listening to these progressives who encourage you to violate federal law,” he said. “You start with this case. It’s a huge principle that applies nationwide. And it’s the progressive organizations that set out on this course to unduly influence state election officials to violate the law.”
Kaardal hopes the judge will render a decision before the 2024 presidential election.
DVJournal asked whether they could cite any Pennsylvania elections that were changed by unverified overseas votes. Honey said the overseas votes are not reported separately but mixed in with the other ballots when counting.
“We cannot see especially how these ballots would have impacted. However, when you look at the quantity of them, that the requesters have never been verified, there are plenty of races that have been decided by a very small number of votes, where the number of the UOCAVA votes exceeded the margin in a particular county.”
Kaardal said, “We were concerned when any ineligible person votes because that can affect a close election… It’s a particular concern because there aren’t the normal verifications.”
“The focus is on Pennsylvania right now because there is such an open, notorious violation of federal law,” said Ka1rdal. “It’s really insulting us and our intelligence by not following the law. So now, we’re going after them because the evidence is available. And if we win here, the other states may very well roll over.”
In a statement, retired U.S. Army captain and combat vet Sean Parnell, who ran for Congress in western Pennsylvania in 2020, offered his support for the effort.
“As a combat veteran, I can’t think of a higher priority than protecting the vote of the men and women who serve in our military. Over 75 percent of the individuals who apply to vote with UOCAVA privileges in Pennsylvania indicate that they are not military or military family members.
“All members of the military have valid, verifiable, government-issued identification. Overseas citizens must have verifiable ID as well. It is important to verify the identity and the eligibility of all nonmilitary overseas voters so the ballots of military voters and their families serving our country are not diluted by ineligible overseas voters.”
A spokesperson for the Department of State declined to offer a comment.