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Judge Dismisses PA Automatic Voter Registration Lawsuit

Gov. Josh Shapiro’s executive action turning Pennsylvania’s “motor voter” system from “opt in” to “opt out” will stand, thanks to the plaintiffs’ lack of standing.

That was the finding of U.S. District Judge Jennifer P. Wilson on Tuesday when she rejected a lawsuit by 25 state legislators claiming Shapiro’s changes to the state’s voter registration process are unconstitutional.

Wilson ruled the plaintiffs had not “alleged any individualized and particularized harm.” Therefore, she ruled they “do not have standing” to pursue the lawsuit.

Last fall, Shapiro ordered PennDOT to automatically register people when they received their driver’s licenses or state identification cards unless they opt out of the process. The lawsuit, led by Rep.  Dawn Keefer (R-York) claimed that was unconstitutional because it usurped the authority of the state legislature.

The suit also claimed that when President Joe Biden signed an executive order in March 2021 requiring all federal agencies to develop plans to increase voter registration, his action was also unconstitutional.

Keefer, who is running for the state Senate, did not have an immediate comment on the ruling. The plaintiffs were members of the Pennsylvania Freedom Caucus and other conservative lawmakers.

Under Shapiro’s new system, people can opt out of getting their voter registration. Under the previous system, they had to opt in to register at Department of Motor Vehicle centers.

Previously, House Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) said a new voting registration system should be created by legislation rather than by an executive order from the governor.

And others have also expressed concern with the change.

“The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has admitted to registering foreign nationals to vote for nearly two decades,” J. Christian Adams, president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, previously told DVJournal. “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.”

Shapiro took a victory lap Tuesday.

“In 2020, I defeated Donald Trump and his conspiracy theorist allies in court more than 40 times to defend Pennsylvanians’ votes and protect access to the ballot box,” Shapiro said. “Today, we’ve done it again by getting their frivolous effort to stop automatic voter registration in our commonwealth dismissed. Automatic voter registration is safe, secure, efficient, and entirely within my administration’s authority.”

“As governor, I will always remain focused on protecting our democracy and ensuring our elections are free, fair, safe, and secure. Let today’s ruling be another reminder that taking legal advice from Donald Trump is never a winning strategy,” Shapiro said.

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