Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro announces automatic voter registration

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro‘s administration said starting Tuesday it is making it easier for someone to register to vote when they are getting or renewing a driver’s license in the state.

Under the new format, prompts on the computer screens in driver’s license centers will take the user to a template to register to vote. That leaves it up to them to choose not to register. Previously, prompts on the computer screen first asked the user whether they wanted to register to vote.

Twenty-three other states and Washington, D.C., already have varying models of what is called “automatic voter registration,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The Shapiro administration said it does not need legislation or regulation to make the change at driver’s license centers.

There are currently 8.6 million registered voters in Pennsylvania, according to information from the state Department of State. More than 10 million Pennsylvanians out of 13 million total are at least 18 years old, the minimum legal age to vote, according to U.S. Census figures.

Punxsutawney Phil Looks For His Shadow In Annual Groundhog Day Tradition
Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro addresses the crowd during the 137th annual Groundhog Day festivities on February 2, 2023 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. 

Michael Swensen / Getty Images

Shapiro told The Washington Post that the state has calcuated that there are 1.6 million eligible voters who are not registered in Pennsylvania but are currently eligible to vote.   

States have been required to offer voter registration at driver’s license centers since Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act in 1993.

Researchers from the Public Policy Institute of California, the University of Southern California and the University of California-Berkeley concluded in a 2021 study that automatic voter registration increased registration by several percentage points in states where it was in effect, and boosted the number of people actually voting by more than 1%.

Voter registration in Pennsylvania, perennial swing state, has become a key issue for former President Donald Trump, who sought to stop vote-by-mail efforts in the state in 2020. Shapiro, then the attorney general of Pennsylvania, fought Trump’s efforts to reverse his loss in the state that year. 

Trump heavily backed Doug Mastriano, a 2020 election denier who organized buses to go to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, against Shapiro in the governor’s race in 2022. Other Republican election deniers ran to become Secretary of State and attorney general. All three lost to Democrats. 

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