A new executive order from Governor Shapiro would mean you would have to opt out of registering to vote when you renew your driver’s license

September 19 – Today is National Voter Registration Day, so if you’re not registered, now is the time. 

Interestingly, overnight PA Governor Josh Shapiro has issued an executive order that would implement changes to voter registration. 

Attorney Clint Barkdoll said, “When you get a new or renewed license at your local PennDOT center, historically you may remember if you go and get your license, there’s a screen that pops up, do you wish to register to vote? And you just click the box and move to the next screen. Starting today you would have to opt out, meaning that by default you will have to go through a screen to register to vote.”

The belief is this could add tens of thousands of new voters in PA. 

Barkdoll said, “Apparently this did not require legislative action. He was able just to do this by an executive order. So again, previously, you had to opt in. Starting today, you’ll have to opt out.”

Michele Jansen of NewsTalk 103.7FM asked, “Will this information be protected? All I’m thinking of is this is a great way to get everybody sucked into a system that might be exploited for ballot harvesting. I would love for everyone to be informed and want to go vote and that’s the way it should be. We should take responsibility, our own civic responsibility. But when you have just reams of people who are registered to vote, who probably won’t even pay attention to what’s going on, but they’re eligible or they’re accessible for ballot harvesting. Even if it’s legal, I think sometimes this is really corrupting what’s supposed to happen when people go and vote for the people who are to represent them.”

Barkdoll said, “I would be curious, if this data is correct, and apparently many states do this by the way, when you go get your license, by default, it’s voter registration screens that you have to go through and they have research saying that this will add tens of thousands of voters to the registration rolls. I would be curious to know how many of these people are actually voting? I mean, it’s one thing to register, but how many of them are actually voting.”

Voter registration data is public information. 

Barkdoll noted, “Once you register to vote that data is available at your local voter registration office. You can go in and buy voter registration lists even down to the precinct level. So it’ll be interesting to see starting today, does this create any uptick in voter registration?”

The new rules for voter registration at driver’s license centers will begin today. 

Barkdoll said, “You get a new driver’s license, whether you’re renewing a license, or you’re going in for the first time, as a resident you’ll now be automatically required to go through a screen that would require you to register to vote and you would have to actively on those interactive screens opt out of that process. That’s different. I mean, forever, at least through yesterday, when you went in to register to vote there was just a screen that would pop up and you had to click a yes box to get to the voter registration screen. So that’ll be totally reversed now, starting today.”

Pat Ryan of NewsTalk 103.7FM wondered, “So with all this influx of illegal aliens in Pennsylvania or in the states, I know some states, I think Illinois was all for giving illegal aliens driver’s licenses. So what does that mean to voter registration? Is that legal in Pennsylvania? Can illegal aliens get a driver’s license?” 

Barkdoll said, “There are scenarios that an illegal person can get a driver’s license, but remember when you register to vote, you have to provide some other information like a social security number, and address. So presumably if they could not provide that, they would not get a voter registration card.”

John Flannery, vice president of the Franklin County Republican Committee, said, “You know, it’s a tough fight when you’re trying to deter people from registering to vote. But when you’re obviously encouraging those and trying to persuade them in a certain way, which I would think under that guise may be being done. You allude to harvesting. It’s concerning.”

Jansen said, “In practice, in principle, we all would love if everybody was engaged civically, and they use their vote to better their own lives and that’s great. I just get wary. It’s like when we did the mail in voting and we put 50 days ahead of an election, which I think is irresponsible, because people are not going to learn all the information that is far out from the election.” 

Flannery said, “A lot of relevant information comes out the last 20 days of a campaign and not 50 days.” 

“Look what happened with Fetterman,” Ryan recalled. 

Jansen continued, “We know that this thing called ballot harvesting exists. Now there’s illegal and legal ballot harvesting but even the legal ballot harvesting can become unethical. If you are going after someone who has no clue what’s good for them, what vote will bring them and better their lives and you just convinced them to register, you convince them to get a ballot and you kind of persuade them how to vote. Well, that to me is incredibly unethical and we know that’s going on in droves around the country right now. Because, unfortunately it’s become about strategy and trying to get your party in rather than what’s really beneficial for individuals.”

Flannery said, “That’s a fact. I know we have a meeting coming up in I believe two weeks with the committee or executive committee. I’m sure this will be a topic of conversation. We’ll figure out how we’re going to address it as a party here in Franklin County. We are really trying to push and I hate to say this because I have mixed feelings about it, but mail ins, getting Republicans that generally don’t vote or vote only in presidential elections, getting them those mail in ballots as well. If the Democrats are going to do it, it’s not going to change under the current administration, we’ve got to get our Republican votes out there. So unfortunately, we have a lot of Republicans as well as Democrats that just don’t go out and vote on Election Day. So we’ve got to get those Republican votes.”

Additionally yesterday, all five of PA’s living ex-governors signed a letter advocating open primaries. 

Barkdoll said, “These are Republicans and Democrats. They’re pointing out that independents and third parties are by far the fastest growing voter registration segment in Pennsylvania. The numbers just keep going up. About half of all military veterans are now registered Independent, which is an interesting dynamic. There seems to be bipartisan support for this idea. But Senator Cris Dush, who chairs the committee in the Senate that would oversee this, is saying no way is he going to allow this to get to a vote. Now some other Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate think there’s still a chance it’ll happen because they’re going to package this with some other reforms that each side wants. So that’s another issue with voter registration and voting in general and keep an eye on.”