Joining Nearly Two Dozen Other States, Pennsylvania Adds Automatic Voter Registration

Kim Lyons, Pennsylvania Capital-Star

Pennsylvania will now automatically register eligible residents to vote when they renew their driver’s licenses or ID cards at PennDOT driver and photo license centers, Gov. Josh Shapiro announced Tuesday.

“When running for governor, I made a commitment to bring automatic voter registration to Pennsylvania,” Shapiro said in a statement, noting it was National Voter Registration Day. “Automatic voter registration is a commonsense step to ensure election security and save Pennsylvanians time and tax dollars.”

Pennsylvania residents have to provide proof of identity, residency, age, and citizenship when renewing their licenses, Shapiro added, all the information required to register to vote. “So it makes good sense to streamline that process with voter registration. My administration will keep taking innovative actions like this one to make government work better and more efficiently for all Pennsylvanians.”

Pennsylvania joins nearly two dozen other states  – including Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Georgia, Virginia, and West Virginia –that also automatically register voters.

Under the new system, residents visiting a PennDOT center to renew their license will be led through the voter registration process unless they opt out, rather than the previous system, where residents had to opt in to register. Instructions have been added in multiple languages for a total of 31 language, to increase access, according to the governor’s statement

“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 a 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.”

Pennsylvanians have been able to apply to register to vote PennDOT centers since the 1993 passage of the National Voter Registration Act, which includes what is known as the motor voter law.

“At PennDOT, we’re proud of our role in the voter registration process,” PennDOT Secretary Mike Carroll said in a statement. “These latest enhancements are a great example of how, through constant collaboration with the Department of State, we work to make this process as efficient as possible for eligible Pennsylvania residents.”

Pennsylvania House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster), criticized the announcement Tuesday, saying in a statement that automatic voter registration “should be created through legislation, not executive guidance,” and that the “unilateral action on the eve of what is likely to be a hotly contested and close election” could raise questions among voters about election security and results.

As of December 2022, approximately 8.7 million Pennsylvanians were registered to vote, state voting records show, and according to U.S. Census estimates, more than 10.3 million Commonwealth residents are eligible to register.

To be eligible to register to vote, applicants must:

Be a U.S. citizen for at least 30 days before the next election,Be a resident of Pennsylvania and their election district for at least 30 days before the next election, andBe at least 18 years old on the date of the next election.

Shapiro said automatic voting would reduce the burden of paper applications for county elections officials, and automate an often laborious process, all while saving time for applicants. Local election officials will receive automatic update when a resident gets  a new ID, as many do when they change their name or address, to boost efforts to keep the state’s voter rolls accurate, the governor added.

The governor’s office pointed to two studies, one from the Brennan Center for Justice and another from the Public Policy Institute of California that find automatic voter registration has led to increased voter turnout in other states, and the number of eligible voters added to voter rolls.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

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