Sep 19, 2023 - News

Pennsylvania adopts automatic voter registration

Illustration of a row of voting booths casting long shadows, the side of the booth reads "VOTE" with a checkmark as the V.

Illustration: Victoria Ellis/Axios

Pennsylvania has become the latest state to implement automatic voter registration.

Why it matters: The policy is expected to boost the number of registered voters in the critical swing state ahead of elections this November and next year.

Driving the news: Gov. Josh Shapiro implemented the policy change Tuesday, sidestepping the legislative process in a move that drew pushback from Republican legislators.

What they're saying: "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 other side: GOP leaders in the state House and Senate slammed Shapiro for not seeking input from the legislature.

  • "This unilateral action on the eve of what is likely to be a hotly contested and close election will cause many Pennsylvania voters to continue to question the security and results of our system," Republican Leader Bryan Cutler said in a statement.

How it works: Pennsylvanians will be automatically asked to complete the voter registration process when getting a driver's license or identification card at state Department of Transportation (DOT) centers.

  • While Pennsylvanians have been able to register to vote at state DOT centers for decades, they had to opt-in to the process.
  • Now residents who don't want to register to vote will have to opt-out.

By the numbers: Approximately 1.7 million people are eligible to vote in Pennsylvania but are not registered, per state and census data.

The big picture: 23 other states, and D.C., already have some version of automatic voter registration.

The intrigue: A 2021 study from the Public Policy Institute of California found that automatic voter registration has a small but positive effect on increasing overall turnout.

Between the lines: Automatic and electronic voter registration is more seamless and secure, and can reduce processing paper application costs, per the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law institute.

  • The process also ensures voter rolls are kept up to date.

What to watch: Whether the policy change will actually increase voter turnout in future elections remains to be seen, Pat Christmas, of nonprofit government watchdog group the Committee of Seventy, told Axios.


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