HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro announced on National Voter Registration Day that the state will now automatically register people to vote unless they opt out.
The change to the driver’s license renewal process will go into effect immediately.
“We know that increased voter participation strengthens our democracy,” Shapiro said. “We also know that doing it here through the DMV means it’s going to be safe and secure.”
Shapiro said he hopes voters won’t opt out of the registration, saying the process “was easy as pie.”
“I think what it’s doing is giving our democracy an advantage,” Shapiro said. “We’re not checking your registration. We don’t care what your views are on issues.”
County election officials did express some concerns because when this system was rolled out years ago, it was possible that people who were not U.S. citizens, but here legally, could get registered to vote.
“It was an issue some years ago that was corrected by the Pennsylvania Department of State,” Secretary of State Al Schmidt said. “Nothing about the changes today as significant as they are to improve voter access, enable non-citizens to register to vote.”
“I would also remind people, added Shapiro, “that if you try and put false information like claiming you’re a citizen when you’re not, that is a punishable offense.”
Many Republicans pushed back against the decision, saying the Governor went around the state legislature.
“Honest, transparent and secure elections remain the cornerstone of our constitutional republic,” said State Senator Cris Dush (R). “Sadly, by unilaterally implementing automatic voter registration, Gov. Shapiro has once again demonstrated his ignorance of the entire electoral process and his inability to work with the legislature as required by the Pennsylvania Constitution.”
House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler said Tuesday “the problem here is not necessarily the end, but the means.”
“The governor is following the sad and misguided precedent set by his predecessor that recognizes our election laws need updating and modernized but then disenfranchises the General Assembly from exercising its constitutional prerogative to make laws,” Cutler said. “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.”
Cutler also called for voters to be required to show identification to vote, saying if they have a driver’s license they should have no issue presenting an ID.
The Governor’s office says 23 states, including Virginia, Georgia, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, and New Jersey, have taken similar steps.
Pennsylvania’s next election is Nov. 7, 2023, and the last day to register to vote is Oct. 23.
Republicans in the Pennsylvania General Assembly were quick to condemn Shapiro’s decision to implement automatic voter registration without legislative approval.
“Instead of working with the General Assembly, Governor Shapiro has chosen the path his predecessor also often took, unilateral enactment of partisan policy without input from the people’s legislature,” said Senator Doug Mastriano (R-33).
Mastriano argued that Shapiro’s action violated the Pennsylvania Constitution and threatened the integrity of the state’s election system.
“Automatic registration makes it more difficult to verify the accuracy of our voter rolls. It significantly increases the likelihood of fraud, duplicate registrations, and the registration of non-citizens, illegal aliens, and temporary residents,” Mastriano said.
House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R-20) also criticized Shapiro’s decision, calling it “a dangerous precedent to set.”
“Automatic voter registration is a reckless and partisan move that will only serve to undermine the public’s trust in our elections,” Benninghoff said. “Governor Shapiro is clearly more interested in increasing voter turnout for his party than in ensuring that our elections are fair and secure.”