Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro announced a major initiative to expand voting access in Pennsylvania on Tuesday when he unveiled the implementation of automatic voter registration through the state’s motor vehicle agency.
Shapiro’s administration estimates that 1.6 million citizens are eligible but unregistered, meaning that automatic registration has the potential to add tens or even hundreds of thousands to the voter rolls in this key swing state. Republicans have long opposed efforts to enact automatic registration and have used their majorities in the legislature to block its adoption, but Shapiro sidestepped the GOP by using his executive powers to implement it administratively.
As a result, Pennsylvanians who are eligible to vote but not yet registered will now be automatically registered when they apply for a new or updated license or non-driver’s ID card, unless they opt out. Previously, the state had offered an opt-in process, but research from other states that have adopted AVR has shown that opt-out systems have a much greater impact on registration rates.
With Pennsylvania’s addition, 20 states plus Washington, D.C., have now implemented some form of automatic voter registration. And Pennsylvania could still go further to expand the process to even more eligible voters, though that would likely take new legislation that Republicans have persistently blocked. In particular, other states have expanded AVR to a range of state agencies, such as their Medicaid provider, in order to reach eligible voters who don’t drive.
Further expansion of AVR and other new measures to make voting more accessible could happen in Pennsylvania in the coming years now that the state finally has fairer redistricting maps after decades of GOP gerrymandering. Those new districts helped Democrats flip the state House in 2022, and they could retake the state Senate as soon as next year. Winning unified power would give Democrats the opportunity to pass a wide range of pro-voting policies in a state where voting accessibility has long lagged behind its peers.
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