A coalition of state groups working toward election reform are alleging that 17,000 voter-registration applications last year were processed late, potentially leaving thousands of Philadelphians unable to vote in the Nov. 8, 2016, general election.
"Some of these applicants were not added to the voter rolls for weeks or even months after their applications had been submitted. Some were never registered at all," the coalition, Keystone Votes, said in its May 23 report.
Keystone Votes, a coalition of 39 organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, Asian Americans United, and Public Interest Law Center, found that more than 25,000 voter-registration applications that were filed by the proper deadline were processed so late that those voters neither received an identification card nor appear in the main poll books. According to the coalition, 17,000 of those late-processed applications were in Philadelphia.
In addition, three local organizations that held voter drives found that 79 of the voter-registration applications had been lost or processed incorrectly.
"The majority of disenfranchised voters are in Philadelphia. An immediate remedy is required in that county," the Keystone Votes report said.
City Commissioner Lisa Deeley said 17,000 sounded unusually high. She said she would have to investigate before commenting further.
"We are in business of franchising voters, not disenfranchising voters," she said. "I am really perplexed. … We need time to verify what they are saying. Where did they get these numbers?"
Ray Murphy, a spokesman for Keystone Votes, said the Public Interest Law Center requested from the Department of State all voter-registration transactions from 2016 and noted whether the application was approved or rejected and when. Separately, Murphy said, the Committee of Seventy helped cross-reference the voter-registration lists of some of the organizations affiliated with Keystone Votes and the state voter-registration database.
Deeley said that the City Commissioners Office received nearly 50,000 paper voter registration applications and about 30,000 electronic applications on Oct. 11, the deadline. After each year's deadline, the commissioners' staff works almost around the clock processing applications until all are completed, Deeley said.
About two or three weeks before the election, the current list of registered voters goes to the vendor that prints the poll books. Then, Deeley said, the rest of the approved voter-registration applicants go on a supplemental sheet that is distributed to the polling locations on Election Day. The supplemental sheets work just like a poll book. The voter must check in and sign the supplemental sheet, Deeley said.
Pat Christmas of the Committee of Seventy said that the late files noted in the Keystone report might have made it onto the supplemental pages.
"Unfortunately, we don't know how many voters were disenfranchised," he said.