Pennsylvania Rolls Out Automatic Voter Registration

Gov. Josh Shapiro announced that Pennsylvania joined 23 states with automatic voter registration.
Pennsylvania Rolls Out Automatic Voter Registration
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro speaks at an event hosted by the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs to kick off National Recovery Month in Harrisburg, Pa., on Sept. 6, 2023. (Commonwealth Media Services)
Beth Brelje

When getting a driver’s license or official state identification card in Pennsylvania, anyone eligible to vote will now be automatically registered.

Gov. Josh Shapiro announced on Sept. 19 that Pennsylvania has implemented automatic voter registration (AVR) at Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) driver and photo license centers, starting on the day of the announcement.

With this move, Pennsylvania joins 23 states with AVR. They are Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia, plus the District of Columbia.

Pennsylvania residents seeking new or renewed driver’s licenses and ID cards will be automatically taken through the voter registration application process, if they are eligible to vote, unless they opt out of doing so.

It is a change from voters opting into the voter registration process. Previously, employees at license centers asked people if they would like to register to vote.

The change also adds voter registration instructions in five more languages, for a total of 31 languages, a statement from Mr. Shapiro’s office said.

“Pennsylvania is the birthplace of our democracy, and as Governor, I’m committed to ensuring free and fair elections that allow every eligible voter to make their voice heard,” Mr. Shapiro said in a statement.

“Automatic voter registration is a commonsense step to ensure election security and save Pennsylvanians time and tax dollars. Residents of our Commonwealth already provide proof of identity, residency, age, and citizenship at the DMV—all the information required to register to vote—so it makes good sense to streamline that process with voter registration.”

Longtime Voter Registration Site

Since the 1993 passage of the National Voter Registration Act, which includes the motor voter law, Pennsylvanians have been able to apply to register to vote during these visits at PennDOT centers.

“Registering eligible Commonwealth residents to vote during their visits to driver and photo license centers is a commonsense action,” Secretary of the Commonwealth Al Schmidt said in the statement. “The voter is already in a state government facility with their identification documentation in hand, and they will have their picture taken and sign their name electronically. Having all of that happen at the same time means the verification process is extremely secure and makes the registration process more efficient.”

According to the statement from the governor’s office, “Multiple studies—including a 2019 Brennan Center for Justice study and a 2021 study by the Public Policy Institute of California—have also found that automatic voter registration in other states has produced marked increases in the number of eligible voters added to the voter rolls and has produced appreciable increases in voter turnout.”

As of December 2022, roughly 8.7 million Pennsylvanians were registered to vote. According to U.S. Census estimates, more than 10.3 million Commonwealth residents are eligible to register, the statement said.

To be eligible to register to vote, applicants must 1) be a U.S. citizen for at least 30 days before the next election; 2) be a resident of Pennsylvania and their election district for at least 30 days before the next election; and 3) be at least 18 years old on the date of the next election.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) lists some pros and cons to AVR on its website.

One positive is that automatic registration can help with voter registration list maintenance because the process updates existing registrations with current addresses. Precise voter rolls facilitate election accuracy and reduce the use of provisional ballots, which are used when there is a discrepancy in a voter’s registration status.

“Some supporters also say automatic voter registration leads to higher voter turnout, although evidence supporting this claim is mixed,” the NCSL website says, then goes on to mention disadvantages of AVR.

“Opponents of automatic voter registration may say that the government should not tell citizens they must register to vote, particularly in states that provide the ‘opt-out’ choice by mail, after the fact. Furthermore, they question whether opt-out forms that are sent and received through the mail are sufficient to ensure an individual can decline to register.”

Beth Brelje is an award-winning Epoch Times reporter who covers U.S. politics, state news, and national issues. Ms. Brelje previously worked in radio for 20 years and after moving to print, worked at Pocono Record and Reading Eagle. Send her your story ideas: [email protected]
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