Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro announced Tuesday that people will automatically be registered to vote when they get their driver’s license or state government ID. Twenty-three other states also have automatic voter registration.
“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 said. “Automatic voter registration is a commonsense step to ensure election security and save Pennsylvanians time and tax dollars.”
Under the new system, people getting their driver’s license will be automatically registered to vote unless they opt out and choose not to. Under the current system, people can “opt-in” to register if they choose.
“Residents of our commonwealth already provide proof of identity, residency, age, and citizenship at the DMV – all the information required to register to vote — so it makes good sense to streamline that process with voter registration. My administration will keep taking innovative actions like this one to make government work better and more efficiently for all Pennsylvanians,” Shapiro said.
Not so fast, Republican legislators responded.
House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) said a new voter registration system should be created through the legislature, not by executive fiat.
“The problem here is not necessarily the end, but the means,” said Cutler. “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. 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.”
Critics of Shapiro’s actions note Pennsylvania has had problems in the past with how it handles voter registration lists.
“The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has admitted to registering foreign nationals to vote for nearly two decades,” said J. Christian Adams, president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation. “They continue to fight to conceal the full extent of how many foreigners registered to vote through the DMV process. This new automatic voter registration program will crank in more errors to the voter rolls.”
In April 2022, the PILF won a court case against Pennsylvania over registering illegal immigrants to vote. State officials admitted a PennDOT programming “glitch” caused illegal aliens to be able to register. Although the court ordered the state to allow PILF to examine voters’ history, the state has appealed.
Senate state government committee Chairman Sen. Chris Dush (R-Clinton/Elk/McKean/Potter) declared Shapiro’s executive action was unconstitutional.
“Honest, transparent, and secure elections remain the cornerstone of our constitutional republic. 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.
Shapiro’s move “bypasses the checks and balances that are in place to safeguard the interests of all citizens,” Dush said.
“The Pennsylvania Constitution makes it crystal clear that any time government is forcibly compelling the people to do something – in this case, registering online to vote through PennDOT – the rule of law must be followed to the letter.
“The governor’s automatic voter registration scheme amounts to the rigging of the process to favor thoughtless and even accidental registration in the name of ‘democracy.’ Any laws made unilaterally through executive orders – without the full scrutiny and debate that this committee and the legislature are obligated to provide – are the work of tyrants,” said Dush.
Manuel Bonder, a spokesperson for Shapiro, said the governor does have the power to make this “procedural change” through the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and the Department of State and that it is constitutional.
Joy Schwartz, a Republican running for Delaware County Council, is angry at Shapiro’s move.
“It’s an effort to swell the voting rolls that are already dirty in Pennsylvania ahead of the little election this year and the big election next year,” said Schwartz. Illegal immigrants are “pouring in” and often need driver’s licenses for their jobs. “This will create a big loophole.”
National Chairman of the Election Transparency Initiative and former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issued the following statement: “Automatic registration is not ‘key to strengthening democracy’ as Gov. Shapiro dishonestly contends—it’s the antithesis of election integrity and threatens the trust of voters in fair, secure, and transparent elections they deserve. Like other schemes, including same-day registration, permanent absentee voter lists, and the automatic mass mailing of absentee ballots and/or absentee ballot request forms, automatic registration leaves virtually no time to verify the accuracy of voter information.
“If you want to increase the likelihood of fraud, multiple or duplicate registrations, and participation of ineligible voters—such as non-citizens and illegal aliens, temporary residents, and convicted felons—look no further than the process of dumping government data onto the voter rolls,” Cuccinelli said.
Schwartz is less worried that illegals will vote than that these names will be used for voter fraud.
“It creates an opportunity for nefarious actors, nongovernmental organizations, to use those voters’ registrations to vote,” she said.
“It’s a naked power grab, as far as I’m concerned,” said Schwartz. “It’s just outrageous, the violations of the legislature’s power by this governor. It’s just shocking.”
The move will increase the problems with Pennsylvania’s elections caused by ballot drop boxes and machines, “making elections less secure.”
“It’s a further consolidating of Democrats’ power,” Schwartz said.