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Harris touts automatic voter registration in visit to Pennsylvania

Republican warns of voting by noncitizens

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries speaks at a news conference in the Capitol with fellow Democrats Joseph D. Morelle, Katherine M. Clark, Terri A. Sewell and Judy Chu to introduce the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries speaks at a news conference in the Capitol with fellow Democrats Joseph D. Morelle, Katherine M. Clark, Terri A. Sewell and Judy Chu to introduce the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Democrats marked National Voter Registration Day across the country Tuesday, including in Pennsylvania, where Vice President Kamala Harris highlighted the move by the commonwealth’s governor to make registration automatic.

“For everyone who has not yet registered, please use the celebration of today as a way to get registered,” Harris said during an event at Reading Area Community College.

On the third stop on what’s billed as a “Fight for Our Freedoms” college tour, Harris told an audience of mostly students and young adults, “Don’t let anything get in the way of your leadership.” She also praised Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s announcement earlier Tuesday that the state’s transportation department would be implementing automatic voter registration when would-be commonwealth voters get driver’s licenses and state IDs.

“I also want to give a shout out to the governor, because today they have announced that if — when you renew or when you apply for your driver’s license or state ID — you’re automatically registered to vote. So let’s make sure that we let everybody know,” Harris said.

With the announcement, Pennsylvania becomes the 24th state with such a program, which is aimed at making it easier to get on the voter rolls. The commonwealth is consistently a key battleground in both presidential and Senate races, as well as having key competitive congressional races.

Democratic Sen. Bob Casey is seeking reelection next year in a race that’s rated Tilt Democratic by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. Businessman Dave McCormick is expected to formally enter the race’s contested GOP primary to challenge Casey on Thursday in Pittsburgh.

Pennsylvania was also one of the centers of the effort by then-President Donald Trump and his supporters to disenfranchise voters by throwing out Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes in favor of Democrat Joe Biden.

“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,” Shapiro said in a statement. “My Administration will keep taking innovative actions like this one to make government work better and more efficiently for all Pennsylvanians.”

Concerns about noncitizens

Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson said he was supportive of more people getting registered to vote, but noted that automatic registration when getting a license can in some cases complicate matters for noncitizens to eventually earn citizenship. He noted one case in which a constituent was signed up to vote when she got her license, and it “almost wrecked” her ability to become a naturalized citizen.

“I really question the wisdom of pushing this. I’m always encouraging people to register to vote because I think it’s a right and responsibility, but there’s going to be issues,” he said. “I think that we’re better off looking at how do we maintain the integrity of that.”

The conservative Election Transparency initiative, which is a partnership between the American Principles Project and the anti-abortion rights group SBA Pro-Life America, criticized Shapiro’s move.

“If you want to increase the likelihood of fraud, multiple or duplicate registrations, and participation of ineligible voters — such as non-citizens and illegal aliens, temporary residents, and convicted felons — look no further than the process of dumping government data onto the voter rolls,” the group’s chairman, former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, said in a statement. Cuccinelli is also founder of the Never Back Down super PAC supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential bid.

Lewis voting rights measure reintroduced

In Washington, House Democrats observed National Voter Registration Day by announcing the reintroduction of legislation named for the late Rep. John R. Lewis of Georgia that would reauthorize the Voting Rights Act, including changes that would reinstate provisions tossed out by the Supreme Court in 2013.

“Generations of Americans — many in my hometown of Selma, Alabama — marched, fought, and even died for the equal right of all Americans to vote,” Rep. Terri A. Sewell, D-Ala., said in a statement. “But today, their legacy and our very democracy are under attack as MAGA extremists target voters with new laws to restrict voting access. Ten years after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the fight for voting rights has never been more urgent.”

The House passed a similar measure in the last Congress when Democrats had the majority, but the Senate did not.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., in a statement joining the introduction said, “Unfortunately, extreme MAGA Republicans have decided that the only way they can win elections is to engage in massive voter suppression.”

And the voter registration day also provided an opportunity for lawmakers and their campaigns to have fresh subject matter fundraising pitches ahead of the end of the third quarter.

Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., sent one such message, highlighting his work on voting access as governor and asking supporters to double-check their voter registration status (as well as to send money).

“Throughout our country’s history, Civil Rights heroes like Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, and so many more made it their mission in life to expand the inalienable right to vote to every American,” Hickenlooper wrote. “But across the country, we are watching some politicians do everything in their power to suppress the right to vote — from closing polling locations to purging voter rolls and passing discriminatory voter ID laws.”

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