Shapiro’s voter registration change draws Trump’s ire

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro speaks at the Finishing Trades Institute on March 9, 2023, in Philadelphia.
AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File

By MARC LEVY Associated Press

Donald Trump has a familiar target in his sights: Pennsylvania’s voting rules.

He never stopped attacking court decisions on mail-in ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic, falsely claiming it as a reason for his 2020 loss in the crucial battleground state. Now, the former Republican president is seizing on a decision by Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro to bypass the Legislature and start automatic voter registration.

The blowback has echoes of the 2020 election, when Trump and his allies relentlessly criticized decisions by the state’s Democratic-majority Supreme Court. That included extending the deadline to receive mail-in ballots over warnings that the pandemic had slowed postal service deliveries.

Republicans have joined Trump in railing against Shapiro’s action, saying there are not enough safeguards to prevent minors or undocumented immigrants from registering. The Shapiro administration disputes that.


Some Republican lawmakers are threatening litigation, saying Shapiro should have sought approval from the Legislature, where control is divided between the parties. Meanwhile, national and state Republican parties are seeking an explanation from Shapiro’s administration for how it will ensure that non-U.S. citizens and minors cannot register to vote.

In a statement, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Shapiro is springing an “unclear and unnecessary last-minute rule change” on voters weeks before the Nov. 7 election, which features a race for a state Supreme Court seat. The first-term governor “cares more about getting airtime on MSNBC than making sure Pennsylvania elections are secure and transparent,” McDaniel said.

Shapiro also is trying to capitalize on his move. He did a round of national cable TV appearances after the Sept. 19 announcement and used it as fundraising pitch, promoting it as a major advancement for democracy.

“This will help tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians make their voice heard — no matter who you choose to vote for or what your views are,” Shapiro said in a fundraising email.

Democrats contended that Shapiro was well within his legal authority to authorize automatic voter registration. One election lawyer, Adam Bonin, said Republicans criticizing it are simply seeking cover, should Trump lose in 2024, and are using it to raise campaign donations.

Pennsylvanians will notice the change when they head to a driver’s license center to obtain or renew a license. On computers there, a prompt will tell them they will be registered to vote “unless you decline to register.”

Previously, the prompts asked users if they wanted to register and to affirmatively check a box saying “yes.”

The Shapiro administration said it already has protections in place to prevent non-U.S. citizens or those under age 18 from being offered registration.

Some of those protections date to 2017, when the state said it fixed a two-decade-old glitch that might have enabled several thousand non-U.S. citizens to inadvertently register to vote. Officials estimate that people in that group cast about 540 ballots over 35 elections in 17 years.

In Pennsylvania, roughly 8.6 million people are registered to vote, while slightly more than 1 million are at least 18 years old but unregistered, according to government figures.

Christina A. Cassidy contributed to this report.