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Support grows for PA online voter registration

The dome of the Pennsylvania State Capitol building in Harrisburg. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
The dome of the Pennsylvania State Capitol building in Harrisburg. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)Read more

HARRISBURG — The fall session will see a renewed push to make Pennsylvania's election laws more technologically friendly.

Senate Bill 37, sponsored by Sen. Llyod Smucker, R-Lancaster, would create an online system to register to vote in Pennsylvania. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate this spring, but it's stalled in the House State Government Committee, where it hasn't been taken up for a vote.

Smucker called for action on the bill Tuesday morning in the Capitol rotunda, surrounded by two dozen citizens and advocates for the cause organized by the Day of Action for PA Voters.

"There's every reason to do this and to do it now," he said.

Smucker said he wished the bill could've passed in time for this fall, but there's still plenty of time to approve it for next November. Smucker said online voting opens up the eligible pool of voters without being partial to party affiliation.

Pennsylvania is "notorious" for being slow to change its election laws, Smucker said. Allowing online voting registration would "encourage the participation we profess to want," he said.

A politically diverse group of 54 organizations endorse the proposal, ranging from the AFL-CIO labor union, the free-market think tank the Commonwealth Foundation, the liberal-leaning Keystone Research Center, as well as activist groups like the Homeless Advocacy Project and lobbyists at the  PA Business Council.

Christopher Nicholas, political director for PA Business Council, said online registration will be particularly relevant for future voters.

"As more and more of our younger generation come of voting age, it's important to remember they are an all-digital generation," he said.

Seventeen states have online voter registration systems, or are prepping implementation.  In Arizona, the first state to allow such registration, the system now accounts for 70 percent of all registrations.

Pennsylvania's registration system, under Smucker's bill, would let voters register up to 30 days before an election to be eligible to participate.

The Department of State estimates getting the system up and running will cost about $300,000, according to  memos on the bill. But it could happen free of charge if setting up the registration system coincides with other scheduled upgrades to the state's voter database.

Contact Melissa Daniels at

The Pennsylvania Independent is a public interest journalism project dedicated to promoting open, transparent, and accountable state government by reporting on the activities of agencies, bureaucracies, and politicians in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is funded by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a libertarian nonprofit organization.