Republicans ask why Legislature wasn’t involved in Shapiro’s Automatic Voter Registration change

19 September 2023- Today by executive order, Governor Josh Shapiro announced that Pennsylvania has implemented automatic voter registration (AVR) for eligible Commonwealth residents obtaining driver licenses and ID cards at Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) driver and photo license centers. By implementing AVR, Pennsylvania joins a group of 23 states with leaders from both parties – including Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Georgia, Virginia, and West Virginia – who have taken this step to promote election security and save taxpayers time and money.

Starting today, Commonwealth residents who are obtaining new or renewed driver licenses and ID cards and are eligible to vote will be automatically taken through the voter registration application process unless they opt out of doing so. Previously, eligible voters were required to take additional steps to opt into the voter registration process. Today’s changes also increase access to voter registration by adding instructions in five more languages, for a total of 31 languages.

Pennsylvanians have been able to apply to register to vote during these visits at PennDOT centers since the 1993 passage of the National Voter Registration Act, which includes what is known as the motor voter law.

“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. “The voter is already in a state government facility with their identification documentation in hand, and they will have their picture taken and sign their name electronically. Having all of that happen at the same time means the verification process is extremely secure and makes the registration process more efficient.” 

“At PennDOT, we’re proud of our role in the voter registration process,” said PennDOT Secretary Mike Carroll. “These latest enhancements are a great example of how, through constant collaboration with the Department of State, we work to make this process as efficient as possible for eligible Pennsylvania residents.”

AVR also reduces paper application processing burdens on county elections professionals. Electronic registrations recorded during driver’s license center interactions are more secure and take a fraction of the time to process.

For local election officials, receiving automatic updates when residents obtain new identification – which residents often do when they change their name or address – will enhance efforts continuously underway to maintain the accuracy of Pennsylvania’s voter rolls.

County election offices are often inundated with voter registrations and status updates during presidential and midterm election years and receive very few changes during municipal election years. With this new automated process, election officials’ important work maintaining our voter rolls should be greatly streamlined and improved over the four-year election cycle.

As of December 2022, approximately 8.7 million Pennsylvanians were registered to vote; according to U.S. Census estimates, more than 10.3 million Commonwealth residents are eligible to register.

To be eligible to register to vote, applicants must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen for at least 30 days before the next election,
  • Be a resident of Pennsylvania and their election district for at least 30 days before the next election, and
  • Be at least 18 years old on the date of the next election.

PA House Republican Leadership, however, has not been as keen on the sweeping move by the Governor. A full release from House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler is below.

With Gov. Josh Shapiro announcing Tuesday his administration will be implementing an automatic voter registration system in Pennsylvania, House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) said that new system should be created through legislation, not executive guidance.

“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 noted the irony of automatically registering people to vote when they obtain a state-issued identification, but then not requiring them to show that identification when they proceed to vote.

“Voter identification is a widely supported proposal that makes more sense than ever with this move toward automatic voter registration. If the Commonwealth is automatically registering people to vote when they obtain identification, they should then be required to provide that identification when they vote,” Cutler said.

In addition, Cutler pointed out questions remain about how automatic voter registration will work practically in terms of determining voter eligibility and the additional burdens it will place on an already stressed bureaucracy.

“Just because someone is eligible for a state-issued identification card does not mean they are eligible to vote. With legislative proposals that would provide driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants and the ability to vote taken away from those who commit serious crimes, there has been no information provided to us about how automatic voter registration will remain nimble in the face of change and workable in the determination of eligibility,” Cutler stated. “Even more concerning is that the burden of determining eligibility could further stress an executive branch that continues to fall short of Pennsylvania’s expectation of top-notch customer service. It is remaining questions like these that underscore the need to have major policy changes like this vetted through the legislative process instead of hasty unilateral executive action.”

A separate statement was issued by Senator Judy Ward of Blair, Fulton, Huntingdon,
Juniata and Mifflin Counties
. The full statement is below.

 Sen. Judy Ward (R-30) today issued the following statement regarding the decision by Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration to implement automatic voter registration for those obtaining licenses or photo ID at PennDOT or photo license centers:

“Today, the administration began implementing automatic voter registration for Pennsylvania residents obtaining driver’s licenses or photo ID cards from PennDOT.  This is incredibly concerning and was done unilaterally without the consent or input from the people’s elected representatives.  Rather than working with my Senate colleagues and me to strengthen our voting systems and make our elections trustworthy and secure, the governor has single-handedly instituted a policy that only moves us further from that goal.  Automatic voter registration is undoubtedly a step in the wrong direction, and I urge the administration to come to the table to work with us on meaningful election integrity measures.”