Governor Josh Sapiro of Pennsylvania announced all state residents obtaining a driver’s license will now be eligible for automatic voter registration.
Effective immediately, anyone who goes to a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation driver and photo license center to obtain or renew a license will be taken through the voter registration process unless they intentionally opt out. Computers at the centers will prompt residents to immediately complete a voter registration form rather than asking if they would like to complete the form.
Automatic voter registration will also now be available in five additional languages, bringing the total to 31.
“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,” said Shapiro in a press release on Sept. 19. “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. My Administration will keep taking innovative actions like this one to make government work better and more efficiently for all Pennsylvanians.”
Shapiro described automatic voter registration as the “key to strengthening democracy” while discussing the change in an interview with columnist Greg Sargent published by The Washington Post. Shapiro’s administration has estimated there are 1.6 million Pennsylvania residents who are eligible but not registered to vote. The governor predicts the new voter registration process will enlist several thousand voters.
In Pennsylvania, the state GOP continues to elevate election deniers to positions of local importance, in effect feeding doubts about the state’s voting system itself. But if automatic voter registration is well received in Pennsylvania, it could act as an antidote to that MAGA mania.
That’s because efforts to weaken public confidence in elections often seek to exploit existing public beliefs that the system is cumbersome and prone to human error and hacking, even if those beliefs are wrong. If automatic registration can make the voter rolls more accurate and make the system of enrollment and registration more efficient and user-friendly, that could make voters less susceptible to that sort of demagoguery.
The United States Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act in 1993, creating a new method of registering eligible voters by allowing states to let residents complete related forms while applying for or renewing their driver’s licenses.
“Some states apply the same automated processes to other state-designated agencies. Under Section 7 of the NVRA, any state office that provides public assistance or operates state-funded programs that serve individuals with disabilities must offer opportunities to register to vote,” noted the National Conference of State Legislatures. “The law also requires states to designate additional offices providing voter registration services.”
Automatic voter registration is already available in 23 states and Washington, D.C. Oregon was the first state to implement the process in January of 2016.