Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro announced Tuesday that the state will now automatically register eligible Pennsylvanians to vote when they obtain or renew identification cards and driver licenses.
“I’m committed to ensuring free and fair elections that allow every eligible voter to make their voice heard,” the Democratic governor said in a news release detailing the plan. “Automatic voter registration is a commonsense step to ensure election security and save Pennsylvanians time and tax dollars.”
Shapiro’s move comes as Pennsylvania is poised to reprise its role as a key battleground state in the 2024 presidential election and in the fight for control of the US Senate, with Democratic Sen. Bob Casey up for reelection. In 2020, Pennsylvania was among several states at the center of false claims about voter fraud promoted by former President Donald Trump and his allies.
Twenty-three mostly Democratic-run states, plus Washington, DC, have enacted some form of automatic voter registration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Starting Tuesday, residents who go to Pennsylvania Department of Transportation driver and photo license centers to get new or renewed licenses and ID cards will be “automatically taken through the voter registration application process unless they opt out of doing so.”
The governor’s office said that previously eligible voters had “to take additional steps to opt into the voter registration process.”
“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,” said Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Al Schmidt, a Republican nominated by Shapiro. “Having all of that happen at the same time means the verification process is extremely secure and makes the registration process more efficient.”
Pennsylvania House Republicans, however, bristled at the Democratic governor’s action, saying this should have been done via the legislature.
“The problem here is not necessarily the end, but the means,” state House Republican leader Bryan Cutler said in a statement provided to CNN.
“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 said.
According to Shapiro’s office, as of December 2022, 8.7 million Pennsylvanians were registered to vote, but more than 10.3 million residents were eligible to register.