State Sen. Vincent Hughes traveled to Selma, Alabama this past weekend to commemorate the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement in which police brutally beat non-violent activists. The events led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
Hughes, a Philadelphia Democrat, says he is now introducing legislation that would implement universal voter registration across Pennsylvania in order to honor those who demonstrated in 1965.
"Fifty years ago, thousands of people marched in Selma, Alabama, to fight for the right to vote for all Americans. Many gave their lives in that struggle," he says in a statement. "We have made much progress as a nation since then, but the dream of universal access to the polls is something that is still yet to be obtained."
Under his upcoming legislation, Hughes says government agencies would automatically register Pennsylvania residents to vote.
"Under current law, citizens are given the option to 'opt-in' by filling out a voter registration form when they apply for a public benefit, service or license through the Department of Transportation or other state agencies currently authorized to assist with registering voters," he says. "Under my proposal, a state agency would automatically collect an individual's relevant voting-related information with the application and send it electronically to the Department of State and to the counties for purposes of registering the voter."
Hughes is planning to introduce the legislation next week. It will likely face an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled General Assembly. Conservatives tend to argue that universal voter registration is costly and that residents should decide for themselves whether to sign up. There are also political implications: It is generally understood that the Democratic Party stands to benefit the most from universal voter registration because many non-voters are part of demographic groups that typically support Dems.
Spokespersons for Republican leaders in the state House and Senate did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the proposal.