WATCH: Gov. Josh Shapiro on How Automatic Voter Registration Protects Democracy

By Keya Vakil

September 19, 2023

In an exclusive interview with The Keystone, Gov. Josh Shapiro speaks about why he’s implementing Automatic Voter Registration in Pennsylvania.

Nearly 250 years after the founding fathers gathered in Philadelphia to sign the Declaration of Independence, Pennsylvania is once again taking steps to advance democracy.

Gov. Josh Shapiro on Tuesday announced that his administration would implement Automatic Voter Registration (AVR), allowing eligible Commonwealth residents to register to vote when they obtain driver’s licenses and ID cards at Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) driver and photo license centers.

In an exclusive interview with Allan Piper for The Keystone, Shapiro said he believes AVR is crucial to defending democracy and ensuring Pennsylvanians’ voices are heard.

“I made a commitment during my campaign that we would make Pennsylvania an automatic voter registration state and I delivered on that commitment,” Shapiro said. “Pennsylvania is the birthplace of our democracy, I think we have a special responsibility to protect it and one of the best ways to protect it is to ensure citizen participation.”

The announcement makes Pennsylvania the 24th state to implement AVR, which has been shown to boost voter registration and turnout. According to Shapiro’s office, the move will also help reduce paper application processing burdens on county election professionals, make the registration process more secure, and help maintain the accuracy of Pennsylvania’s voter rolls.

There are roughly 8.6 million Pennsylvanians currently registered to vote, according to the most recent data from the Pennsylvania Department of State. But there are more than 10.3 million residents eligible to register overall, according to US Census estimates.

“Our experts here in Pennsylvania believe that [AVR] is going to result in tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians registering to vote in just the first year of the initiative alone,” Shapiro said. “That’s good for our democracy. It’s healthy. And while those tens of thousands of people won’t all agree, that’s fine. The key is getting them to participate in the process.

“No matter who you vote for or what your political persuasion is, a healthy democracy depends on great voter participation,” the governor added. “And in this case, we can now improve voter participation through a common sense, streamlined approach of automatic voter registration here in Pennsylvania.”

Under the new initiative, Pennsylvania residents who are obtaining new or renewed driver licenses and ID cards at the DMV and are eligible to vote will now be automatically taken through the voter registration application process—unless they opt out. Previously, eligible voters were required to take additional steps to opt into the voter registration process.

“It’s going to make it easier for people to participate in the process. We streamlined the process and we used the secure platform at the DMV in order to make sure that there’s integrity in the system,” Shapiro said.

Tuesday’s changes also increase access to voter registration by adding instructions in five additional languages, for a total of 31 languages.

Shapiro’s actions represent a stark contrast from those of many other governors, particularly those of Republican-led states, who in the aftermath of the 2020 election and Donald Trump’s lies about voter fraud, have sought to roll back voting rights and reduce access to voting.

Shapiro fundamentally opposes those efforts.

“I think any time you make it harder for people to vote, you threaten our democracy, you take away people’s fundamental rights, their constitutional rights, their freedoms,” Shapiro said. “I’m in the business of making sure that we protect real freedom for all Pennsylvanians, regardless of your political views or your ideology. That’s how you have a stronger democracy.”

“People put me in this office to protect our democracy, to protect the will of the people and to ensure the right to vote, and that’s exactly what I’m doing as your governor,” he added.

The shift could also have national implications, given Pennsylvania’s perennial role as a swing state in presidential elections. In both 2016 and 2020, the state was decided by fewer than 100,000 votes.

A surge of new voters under AVR could have a real impact on both turnout and election results. Shapiro welcomes that, however, regardless of which party it benefits.

“I think it’s important that all of our eligible voices be heard. That’s going to give you a better sense of where Pennsylvania is and ensure that the will of the people is ultimately carried forth,” he said.

To be eligible to register to vote, applicants must:

  • Be a US citizen for at least 30 days before the next election,
  • Be a resident of Pennsylvania and their election district for at least 30 days before the next election, and
  • Be at least 18 years old on the date of the next election.

Author

  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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