Republican candidate Mehmet Oz is being criticized on social media with a false claim that he is not registered to vote in Pennsylvania, the state he is running to represent in the US Senate.
The surgeon and television personality faces legitimate questions about his residency in Pennsylvania, where he says he moved in late 2020 after living in New Jersey for decades. But some Democratic commentators have gone beyond fair-game questions to make an assertion about Oz’s registration status that is just not true.
Harry Litman, a former US attorney and deputy assistant attorney general who is now the legal affairs columnist for the Los Angeles Times opinion page, tweeted on Tuesday: “Turns out Dr. Oz, Newly victorious Republican candidate for Senate from Pennsylvania, is registered to vote in New Jersey, not Pennsylvania, and has been registered there since the 1980s.”
Litman’s tweet had been retweeted more than 17,000 times as of Wednesday evening. A follow-up clarification tweet Litman posted early Wednesday, after CNN reached out to him with the facts, had been retweeted fewer than 35 times.
Facts First: The claim that Oz isn’t registered to vote in Pennsylvania is wrong. Oz has been registered to vote in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania since late 2020, after the general election that year, and voted in the May 2022 Republican primary he won; his Pennsylvania voter registration can be found on the state’s public voter registration website. Oz is also listed as an active registered voter in New Jersey, but having two registrations on file is not illegal or even abnormal. Because many voters do not notify elections authorities in one state that they have moved to another state, many of them remain on the first state’s registration rolls for a number of years before eventually getting removed or deemed inactive.
“It’s very common for someone who has moved, and previously been registered to vote in their former state, to remain on the active voter lists for 2-4 years or so after they move,” said David Becker, executive director of The Center for Election Innovation & Research, a nonprofit. Becker added that he was not taking a position on the debate about Oz’s residency.
Gregory Huber, a Yale University political science professor, said that voters having registrations listed in both their old state and new state “is extremely common.” Huber said, “When people move, most of us barely remember to fill out a postal change of address form. So we leave behind all sorts of administrative records – magazine subscriptions, old library cards, voter registrations, old drivers licenses, etc.”
Former New Jersey residents who don’t personally inform their old county that they have moved away are supposed to be removed from the voter rolls after they don’t vote in two consecutive federal elections there and don’t respond to an attempt to confirm their New Jersey address. (They can be removed from the rolls earlier if a county’s registration commissioner receives and confirms credible evidence that they are no longer eligible to vote there.) New Jersey is not yet a member of the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a nonprofit system that helps participating states keep their registration rolls up to date in part by proactively identifying voters who have moved away.
“If someone moves from one ERIC state to another,” Becker said, “both states know about the move, and the former state of residence can reach out to the voter to confirm their move, and inactivate or cancel their registration. In the case of Dr. Oz, while Pennsylvania is in ERIC (and has been for several years), New Jersey is not, so there was no way for New Jersey to know he moved.”
It would be illegal for Oz or anyone else to vote in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania in the same election, but there is no sign Oz has ever done that. There are a tiny number of double-voting fraud cases in a typical federal election.
Oz’s Pennsylvania registration
Oz, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1986 and has two Pennsylvania-born children, lived for years in a New Jersey mansion where the Philadelphia Inquirer has reported he was still pictured spending time shortly before he launched his Pennsylvania campaign in 2021. His Pennsylvania voter registration lists his current address as the Montgomery County home of his wife Lisa’s parents, who are longtime residents of the state.
Oz campaign spokesperson Brittany Yanick said Oz is living at his in-laws’ house, paying rent, while he awaits the completion of renovation work on a nearby Pennsylvania property that, as the Philadelphia Inquirer has reported, he and Lisa purchased early this year for $3.1 million.
Yanick said in a statement to CNN: “Dr. Oz is a registered and active Pennsylvania voter, having just voted in the Pennsylvania primaries on May 17 and the other elections here since he moved back home. He was previously registered in New Jersey but the voter rolls have not been scrubbed to accurately reflect his change in status.”
Auburn University political science professor Kathleen Hale said voter rolls are never “perfect” given the various factors involved – from the need to collect information from different sources operating on different schedules to federal restrictions on systematically removing voters in the period immediately prior to a federal election.
But Hale said, “Research demonstrates that voter fraud is incredibly rare, and that we have adequate administrative and legal protections in place to address that, if it does occur.”
The tweets wrongly declaring that Oz isn’t registered to vote in Pennsylvania came after Oz’s Democratic opponent in the November midterms, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, posted a Tuesday tweet that said something different.
Fetterman correctly wrote that Oz is registered in New Jersey and that New Jersey is “notably *not* Pennsylvania.” That isn’t the same thing as saying Oz is not registered in Pennsylvania at all – though Fetterman’s language might have confused readers who assumed that someone can only be registered in one state at a time.
Litman, the Los Angeles Times columnist whose inaccurate tweet went viral, said in a message to CNN that “the important fact that I got wrong was assuming that the registration in NJ would necessarily preclude one in PA also.”
Other Oz critics also tweeted Tuesday that Oz is registered to vote in New Jersey but not Pennsylvania. They included the Democratic groups MeidasTouch, which has more than 825,000 Twitter followers, and Occupy Democrats, which has more than 368,000 Twitter followers.
MeidasTouch didn’t respond to a request for comment. Occupy Democrats told CNN on Thursday that it had relied on the initial tweet from Litman, a former federal prosecutor, and strives for accuracy. It posted a clarifying tweet on Thursday that said Oz appears to be “somehow” registered in two states – though, again, there is nothing mysterious about this.
This story has been updated to include a comment from Occupy Democrats.