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September 19, 2023

Pennsylvanians will now be automatically registered to vote when they receive ID cards and licenses at the DMV

Ahead of the 2024 presidential election, Pennsylvania joins 23 other states and the District of Columbia in implementing automatic voter registration

Elections Voter Registration
Automatic Voter Registration Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Starting Tuesday, Gov. Josh Shapiro said that eligible Pennsylvanians who receive ID cards or driver's licenses at the DMV will be automatically registered to vote.

Eligible Pennsylvanians who visit the DMV and receive a state ID card or driver's license will now be automatically registered to vote, Gov. Josh Shapiro announced on Tuesday. 

The decision is intended to increase voter turnout and streamline the voter registration process before the 2024 presidential election. Pennsylvania is the 24th state to implement automatic voter registration, joining New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Georgia and the District of Columbia.

Since 1993, Pennsylvania residents have been able to register to vote at the DMV. Starting today, DMV visitors must opt out of being registered to vote if so desired. The change is effective immediately and was announced on National Voter Registration Day.

"Pennsylvania is the birthplace of our democracy, and as Governor, I'm committed to ensuring free and fair elections that allow every eligible voter to make their voice heard," Shapiro said. "Automatic voter registration is a commonsense step to ensure election security and save Pennsylvanians time and tax dollars. Residents of our Commonwealth already provide proof of identity, residency, age, and citizenship at the DMV — all the information required to register to vote — so it makes good sense to streamline that process with voter registration."

A person's voter information will automatically be updated when they update their information with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Local election officials also will be notified when a voter's information changes.

To be eligible to register to vote, a person must be at least 18 years old, a United States citizen for at least 30 days before the next election and a resident of Pennsylvania for at least 30 days prior to the election. 

"Registering eligible Commonwealth residents to vote during their visits to driver and photo license centers is a commonsense action," Secretary of the Commonwealth Al Schmidt said. 

A 2019 study by the Brennan Center for Justice showed that states with automatic voter registration saw gains in registered voters. A 2021 study conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California found that automatic voter registration slightly increased voter turnout during elections. Other research has shown that automatically registering citizens to vote can increase voter turnout by about 5%.

U.S. Census data shows that 8.7 million Pennsylvanians were registered to vote in December 2022, and that there are currently 10.3 million Pennsylvanians who are able to register to vote. New Jersey implemented automatic voter registration in 2018.

Shapiro proposed automatic voter registration during his campaign for governor. State lawmakers previously have tried to pass legislation that would automatically register Pennsylvanians who fill out government paperwork to vote — like State Rep. Sara Innamorato's proposal in 2019 — but efforts have failed in committee. A spokesperson for Shapiro said the governor can implement automatic voter registration himself, as it is a policy at an agency he oversees.

A loophole at the DMV that asked non-U.S. citizens if they wanted to vote allowed 220 non-citizens to register to vote between 2006 and 2017The Department of State fixed that loophole in 2017.