Pennsylvania will now automatically register residents to vote when they interact with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Gov. Josh Shapiro announced Tuesday.
Under the new system, which goes into effect today, residents obtaining new or renewed driver’s licenses and ID cards will automatically be led through the voter registration process unless they opt out. Previously, Pennsylvania used the opposite default: Residents interacting with PennDOT had to opt in to the registration process.
It comes ahead of what is expected to be another contentious presidential election cycle in 2024, when turnout is expected to be high and Pennsylvania’s 19 electoral votes will again be a highly sought after prize. The U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Bob Casey will also be on the ballot next year and will be a target of Republicans as they aim to take back the upper chamber.
Pennsylvania joins 23 other states and Washington, D.C., which already use automatic voter registration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Twenty of the states with automatic voter registration implemented it through legislation or by having voters approve the change.
Three states — Colorado, Connecticut and Georgia — enacted automatic voter registration through an action by the secretary of state or department of motor vehicles, similar to Shapiro’s move today.
“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,” Shapiro, a Democrat, said in a statement. “Automatic voter registration is a commonsense step to ensure election security and save Pennsylvanians time and tax dollars.”
Touting the convenience and efficiency of such a system, the governor noted that residents interacting with the DMV already provide proof of identity, residency, age and citizenship. Shapiro said the change would lend itself to more accurate voter rolls by more quickly capturing voters’ changes in names or addresses. Other states that have recently converted to similar models have seen the type of improvement Shapiro describes as well as increased registration rates, research suggests.
Tammy Patrick, CEO for programs at the National Association of Election Officials, said Pennsylvania should expect similar results as long as it has ensured communications between the two agencies — PennDOT and the Department of State — are secure and efficient. When those steps have been taken, states that have previously made the switch have found it better serves voters, she said.
“Any time [local government] can come up with more effective ways to serve our communities, I think it’s good to do so,” she said.
This is a developing story. This article will be updated with additional information as it’s available.
Carter Walker is a reporter for Votebeat in partnership with Spotlight PA.
Votebeat is a nonprofit news organization covering local election integrity and voting access. Sign up for their newsletters here.
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