Democrat Gov. Josh Shapiro’s decision to unilaterally implement automatic voter registration (AVR) in Pennsylvania likely violates the Constitution and state law, several election experts told The Federalist.
On Wednesday, Shapiro announced that the commonwealth would join over 20 other states in implementing AVR through its Department of Transportation (PennDOT). According to a press release from the governor’s office, Pennsylvania residents who are eligible to vote and can “obtain new or renewed driver licenses and ID cards” at facilities such as the DMV “will be automatically taken through the voter registration application process unless they opt out of doing so.”
Individuals must be U.S. citizens, Pennsylvania residents, and residents of their district at least 30 days before the next election to register to vote, according to the directive. Eligible voters are also required to be 18 years old “on the date of the next election.”
While legacy media have gone out of the way to regurgitate Shapiro’s talking points, hyping Pennsylvania’s launch of AVR, almost none of these so-called “news” organizations have bothered to question the legality of the governor’s directive. While speaking with The Federalist, Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation, suggested that Shapiro’s decision to implement AVR via executive fiat appears to violate state law, which stipulates that a voter registration application completed at the DMV “shall serve as an application to register to vote unless the applicant fails to sign [it].”
“In other words, [the] DMV can’t register someone to vote unless they first fill out an application and sign it,” von Spakovsky said. “That doesn’t allow [the] DMV to simply take the name from a driver’s license application and register that individual to vote without their permission or signature,” von Spakvosky said.
Heather Honey, the CEO of Verity Vote, separately told The Federalist that Shapiro likely doesn’t possess the legal authority to unilaterally implement AVR, citing Article 1, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution and several provisions of state law regarding voter registration. The statute cited by Honey makes clear that the voter registration form presented to voters by a government agency includes “[b]oxes for the applicant to check to indicate whether the applicant would like to register or decline to register to vote” and explicitly states: “IF YOU DO NOT CHECK EITHER BOX, YOU WILL BE CONSIDERED TO HAVE DECIDED NOT TO REGISTER TO VOTE AT THIS TIME.”
According to Honey, by unilaterally implementing AVR, Shapiro is unlawfully changing the aforementioned registration process without approval from the legislature.
“Changing the registration process at PennDOT … is inconsistent with Pennsylvania law,” Honey said. “Governor Shapiro doesn’t have the authority to change or ignore language in the statute just because he doesn’t like it.”
Despite Shapiro’s assertion his order will help ensure “free and fair elections” in Pennsylvania, AVR ensures the exact opposite. Multiple analyses of AVR have shown the system to be ripe for human error, such as the entering of incorrect voter information by inexperienced DMV officials and the registration of non-U.S. citizens.
In Pennsylvania, “lawfully present” non-citizens are already permitted to apply for a REAL ID driver’s license or ID card. State Democrats have introduced legislation in recent years to expand this allowance to include all commonwealth residents “regardless of immigration status.”
It’s also worth mentioning that a district court judge previously ordered Pennsylvania last year to forfeit records regarding a “glitch” within PennDOT that allowed non-citizens to register to vote in the state for decades. In his March 2022 opinion, Judge Christopher Conner ruled that under the National Voter Registration Act, the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) is entitled access to documents detailing the severity of the problem and actions taken by the commonwealth to address the errors in the state’s voting files.
A PILF representative who spoke with The Federalist said that the state has since appealed the district court’s ruling to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
AVR doesn’t just jeopardize the accuracy of voter rolls, however. It also inflates voter registration lists to the benefit of Democrats.
For years, Democrats have cultivated an election machine funded by leftist billionaires, in which left-wing nonprofits abuse their tax-exempt status to conduct massive voter registration and get-out-the-vote campaigns geared toward Democrat-leaning voters. As Hayden Ludwig previously wrote in these pages, AVR “instantly and dramatically expand[s] the pool of registered voters for the left to cynically tap into.”
In a statement criticizing Shapiro, Ken Cuccinelli, the chair of the Election Transparency Initiative, said that Pennsylvania’s adoption of AVR is “the antithesis of Election Integrity” and warned that Shapiro’s actions threaten to undermine “the trust of voters in fair, secure, and transparent elections.”
“Like other schemes including same-day registration, permanent absentee voter lists, and the automatic mass mailing of absentee ballots and/or absentee ballot request forms, automatic registration leaves virtually no time to verify the accuracy of voter information,” Cuccinelli said. “If you want to increase the likelihood of fraud, multiple or duplicate registrations, and participation of ineligible voters … look no further than the process of dumping government data onto the voter rolls.”
Cuccinelli also called on the commonwealth’s Republican-controlled Senate to launch “a comprehensive investigation” into the matter.