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A headstone in the Old Trinity Church graveyard in the Lawndale section of Northeast Philadelphia on Monday, September 9, 2019. YONG KIM / Inquirer Staff Photographer A headstone in the Old Trinity Church graveyard in the Lawndale section of Northeast Philadelphia on Monday, September 9, 2019. YONG KIM / Inquirer Staff Photographer

A headstone in the Old Trinity Church graveyard in the Lawndale section of Northeast Philadelphia on Monday, September 9, 2019. YONG KIM / Inquirer Staff Photographer

Jessica Calefati
By Jessica Calefati March 27, 2020

No, a new lawsuit doesn't say Pennsylvania registered the dead to vote

If Your Time is short

  • One of Pennsylvania’s most populous counties is facing a federal lawsuit over maintenance of its voter rolls.
  • The lawsuit was filed by the Public Interest Legal Foundation, an Indiana-based nonprofit led by a former member of President Donald Trump’s defunct voter fraud commission
  • Conservative website The Patriot Journal published a story suggesting that the lawsuit accused the county county of registering dead people to vote, but that’s not correct.

Two months before Pennsylvania voters cast their presidential primary ballots, one of the state’s most populous counties is facing a federal lawsuit over maintenance of its voter rolls.

Conservative website The Patriot Journal published a story about the lawsuit with the headline:

"Swing State Hit With 2020 Voting Lawsuit - Accused Of Registering Over 1,500 Deceased People In Pennsylvania."

We wondered whether the lawsuit really alleged registration of the dearly departed – one of the oldest dirty tricks in politics.

There is a lawsuit, but it wasn’t filed against Pennsylvania, a pivotal swing state. The Public Interest Legal Foundation, an Indiana-based nonprofit led by a former member of President Donald Trump’s defunct voter fraud commission, filed suit against Allegheny County elections officials last month.

The complaint alleges that the county violated the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 by not making a "reasonable effort" to remove ineligible voters’ names from its registration lists. Similar lawsuits have been filed against dozens of other counties across the country by a man committed to preventing non-citizens from casting ballots in U.S. elections.

J. Christian Adams, the Trump appointee who leads the nonprofit, for years has warned about states improperly pushing noncitizens onto their voter rolls. In 2016, the group published a report titled "Alien Invasion in Virginia" about its research into the problem in that state. Critics accuse Adams of peddling baseless claims about voter fraud and putting unsuspecting voters at risk of disenfranchisement.

Does this latest lawsuit filed by the activist nonprofit allege that Allegheny County elections officials registered the dead to vote or that a deceased person has actually cast a ballot? No. 

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The complaint states that when the group obtained and reviewed the county’s voter list last fall, it found 1,500 deceased voters whose registrations should have been canceled but remain active. The group also found more than 3,700 sets of duplicate, triplicate and quadruplicate voter registration records and more than 7,400 instances of failure to correctly process voters’ name changes.

The lawsuit doesn’t allege that the county improperly registered anyone to vote, rather that the county hasn’t done enough to keep its list of active voters up to date.

State and federal law require counties to purge their rolls anytime a voter moves out of state, dies or requests removal in writing. We called Allegheny County Manager of Elections David Voye to find out how often he does list maintenance and to ask whether the county had discovered any suspicious instances of dead voters rising to cast ballots. But we haven’t heard back.

When asked about the lawsuit by a reporter for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he said each citizen registered to vote gets one vote, and "there are no allegations (in the lawsuit) that anything to the contrary has occurred."

 "As is always the case with voter registration list maintenance, the utmost care will be taken to ensure that no one is disenfranchised," Voye said.

Our ruling

The Patriot Journal headline stated that a swing state had been accused of registering hundreds of dead Pennsylvanians to vote. 

The claim gets some critical facts false. The lawsuit was filed against county elections officials, not the state. And the complaint doesn’t allege registration of the dead. It alleges that the county officials haven’t done enough to remove deceased voters from the rolls. We rate this statement Mostly False. 

This story has been updated to reflect that while the nonprofit behind the lawsuit has warned about states pushing noncitizens onto their voter rolls, the lawsuits the group files are not explicitly designed to stop an alien invasion at the ballot box. 

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More by Jessica Calefati

No, a new lawsuit doesn't say Pennsylvania registered the dead to vote

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