Pennsylvania Adopts Automatic Voter Registration

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By Emily Migdal, Staff Writer

On September 19th, 2023, Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro announced that he was implementing automatic voter registration in the commonwealth.[1] Under this policy, Pennsylvania residents will automatically be registered to vote when obtaining or renewing a driver’s license or state ID, streamlining the registration process.[2]

In addition to implementing automatic voter registration, the policy adds five languages in which the instructions to register can be read, totaling 31 languages. [3]

Through this shift in the state’s registration process, Shapiro hopes many of the approximately 1.6 million eligible, unregistered Pennsylvania residents will now become registered voters due to the ease of the process.[4] Shapiro also hopes this move will restore faith in democracy and the election process. [5]

Prior to the policy change, Pennsylvania followed the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (“NVRA”). Section 5 of the NVRA, also known as the ‘Motor Voter act’, requires that states offer voter registration opportunities at state motor vehicle agencies.[6] Since the passage of the NVRA, the Department of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”) remains the most common way for people to register to vote.[7] According to the 2020 report from the Election Assistance Commission, 39.3% of registration applications come from DMVs, followed by 28.2% received online.[8]

Like most states, Pennsylvania adopted an opt-in process when registering to vote at the DMV following the passage of the NVRA. This required applicants to explicitly choose to register. In 2016, Oregon became the first state to implement automatic voter registration.[9] Following this example, 24 other states, including Pennsylvania, followed Oregon’s lead between 2016 and 2023. [10]

According to a 2019 report from the Brennan Center, states with automatic voter registration have seen increases in the number of registered voters ranging from 9 to 94 percent.[11]

Pennsylvania’s shift in voter registration policy is a step in the right direction to protecting and expanding voting rights. If, however, Shapiro hopes to restore confidence in the voting process and in democracy, he will need to go further in expanding accessibility.

One option for further expansion of voter registration is a simpler process for residents without a driver’s license or state ID. Currently, neither form of ID is needed to register to vote in Pennsylvania; the process to register, however, is far more difficult. For residents with neither a state ID nor a social security number, registration requires printing, signing, and mailing the registration form to the county election office. [12] This is a difficult and inconvenient barrier to access that discourages people from registering vote.

Finally, it is critical that Pennsylvania residents know their rights when it comes to voting and registering to vote. Misinformation about the requirement of photo IDs may prevent eligible residents from registering. [13] There is also persistent confusion about showing ID at the polls. Although it is true that a person must show ID the first time voting at a polling place, this is not necessary at the following visits. Further, it does not need to be a state-issued photo ID. [14] Other acceptable forms of ID include utility bills, a current paycheck, or a confirmation from the County Voter Registration Office, among others. [15] Ensuring that eligible voters know their rights is essential to promoting free and fair elections.

The expansion of voting rights through automatic registration is the first step in protecting voters in Pennsylvania by making registration more accessible. Continuing to expand access and protection to voting will ensure that all Pennsylvanian’s voices are heard in upcoming elections.


[2] Id.






[8] Id.





[13] Id.


[15] Id.

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