Inspired by a civil rights anniversary and a new law in the Pacific Northwest, a Philadelphia Democrat is pushing to make voter registration automatic in Pennsylvania. “We will no longer play defense,” said state Sen. Vincent Hughes at a Tuesday news conference at the Constitution Center, where he announced a new bill to create a “universal, automatic” registration system. “We will no longer be in a position where we will allow folks to deny us the opportunity to vote. We are now engaging fully in securing the right to vote for every Pennsylvania citizen who legally can do it.” Hughes estimates about two million Pennsylvanians are eligible to vote but unregistered. The state is home to about 10 million voting-age residents.
Under his proposal, anyone legally entitled to vote would be automatically registered when using certain state services, such as getting a driving or hunting license, requesting copies of a birth certificate, or applying for public benefits. Voters would then receive a letter notifying them of their registration, allowing them to choose a party, remain independent or “opt out.”
Hughes said he was inspired in part by recent passage of an automatic registration system in Oregon. The practice of automatic registration is common abroad, but Oregon’s system is the nation’s first.
But the underlying mission is to continue the work of the civil rights movement, when expansion of voting rights was a signature achievement. Hughes, who represents Philadelphia and parts of Montgomery County, said his bill represents a conscious effort to push back against attempts by Republicans to pass restrictive measures such as requiring voters to present specifici forms of identification.