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Local News

Court dismisses Pa. Freedom Caucus lawsuit challenging automatic voter registration

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Peter Hall, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
March 26, 2024

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by two dozen conservative state lawmakers that claimed ballot access initiatives by President Joe Biden and Gov. Josh Shapiro usurped the state Legislature’s authority to direct federal elections in the commonwealth.

U.S. District Judge Jennifer P. Wilson’s one-page order on Tuesday grants motions by state and federal officials to dismiss the case. The order also denies a request by two dozen conservative lawmakers for a preliminary injunction to block the ballot access initiatives, including Shapiro’s executive order implementing automatic voter registration for driver’s license applicants.

In a statement, Shapiro said automatic voter registration is safe, secure, efficient, and entirely within his administration’s authority. Shapiro said that in 2020, when he was attorney general, he defeated Donald Trump and “his conspiracy theorist allies” in court to defend Pennsylvania residents’ votes and access to the ballot box.

“Today, we’ve done it again by getting their frivolous effort to stop automatic voter registration in our Commonwealth dismissed,” Shapiro’s statement said. Shapiro added that he remains focused on protecting democracy and ensuring elections are free, fair, safe, and secure.

“Let today’s ruling be another reminder that taking legal advice from Donald Trump is never a winning strategy,” the statement reads.

The Pennsylvania Freedom Caucus, led by state Rep. Dawn Keefer (R-York), filed the lawsuit in January. An email to a spokesperson for Keefer, who is listed as the lead plaintiff, was not returned Tuesday.

It argued that the U.S. Constitution grants the power to state legislatures to “determine the time, place, and manner” of conducting elections in their respective states. 

It challenged Biden’s 2021 executive order directing federal agencies “to expand citizens’ opportunities to register to vote and to obtain information about, and participate in, the electoral process” by partnering with third-party nongovernmental organizations.

The lawsuit claimed that the Biden executive order conflicts with Act 88, which the General Assembly passed in 2022 to eliminate the influence of third-party organizations in the administration of Pennsylvania elections.  

It also challenged Shapiro’s executive order from September 2023 that implemented automatic voter registration in the state. Under that order, eligible residents are automatically registered to vote when they renew drivers’ licenses or ID cards at PennDOT driver and photo license centers, unless they opt out. 

And the suit challenged a 2018 directive from former Gov. Tom Wolf that voter registrations can’t be rejected only because an applicant’s identifying numbers — such as their drivers’ license number or Social Security number – doesn’t match what the government has in its database.

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This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.