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Pennsylvania implements automatic voter registration when drivers get or renew a license

State implements automatic voter registration when drivers get or renew a license
State implements automatic voter registration when drivers get or renew a license 03:00

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Registering to vote is getting a little bit easier in Pennsylvania.

Now, it's automatic when you get or renew your driver's license, unless you opt out. But as KDKA-TV political editor Jon Delano reports, not everyone likes the idea. 

In announcing on social media that he was making voter registration automatic at the DMV, Governor Josh Shapiro said he was fulfilling a campaign pledge.

"I made a commitment when I was campaigning for this office that we would bring automatic voter registration to Pennsylvania and break down the barriers for legal, eligible voters," he said in the video.

It's a system used in 23 other states, both Republican and Democratic, registering drivers automatically as voters unless they choose to opt out. Until now in Pennsylvania, you were not registered unless you affirmatively opted in.

"It's really a matter of improving voter access," said Al Schmidt, the Pennsylvania secretary of state. "We have more than a million and a half Pennsylvanians, according to census records, who are eligible to register to vote but are not yet registered to vote."

Some officials, like Allegheny County Councilman Sam DeMarco — who serves on the election board —  is concerned that both underage residents and non-citizens could get registered. DeMarco recalls back in 2017, when a few foreign citizens actually got registered to vote through the DMV.

"Non-citizens and underage folks can get drivers license before they are eligible to vote," he said. "Now, I remain to be seen the details as to what the governor and Secretary Schmidt are going to put in place to ensure that doesn't happen again."

Schmidt, a Republican and Pennsylvania's top election official, says he brought that case to the attention of officials back in 2017.

"The Department of State working with the Department of Transportation, PennDOT, changed that system so that any applicant who is not a citizen would not be prompted to begin this process," he said. 

DeMarco said he wants every legal, eligible voter to be registered in Pennsylvania. Right now, about 1.7 million Pennsylvanians are not registered, but he also questions the governor's timing for making registration automatic.

"The unilateral aspect of this, for him to just come out and announce it today, weeks before we have competitive elections statewide as well as jurisdictions like here in Allegheny County and also in Philadelphia, and without going through the legislature," DeMarco said.

Officials said that federal law give the governor authority to do what he did. Of course, how many more people get registered and who among them vote remain unanswered questions.

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