Pennsylvania automatic voter registration boosts sign-ups, but not a political party, data shows

If anything, the new automatic voter registration system — which is the subject of a lawsuit by Republican lawmakers — has favored the GOP.

foldable voting booths

FILE - Table top voting booths are stored at the Allegheny County Election Division warehouse on the Northside of Pittsburgh, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

New data from automatic voter registration at Pennsylvania driver’s license centers shows that sign-ups have grown, remain almost evenly divided between the political parties and do not significantly favor one party over another in the presidential battleground state.

The latest data, published Wednesday by Pennsylvania’s elections office, tallies just over four months of new voter registrations since Gov. Josh Shapiro announced the change in September to make it easier for people to register and for counties to manage voter rolls.

It shows about a 45% increase in sign-ups at driver’s license centers compared with those during a similar period two years ago.

It also shows little change in the partisan mix of those registering under the new system, despite accusations by Donald Trump that Democrats would use it to “steal Pennsylvania.”

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If anything, the new automatic voter registration system — which is the subject of a lawsuit by Republican lawmakers — has favored the GOP.

Of about 47,300 new voter registrations, 35% chose independent or a third party, 34% opted for Republican and 31% went with Democratic, according to the data. By comparison, during a similar period two years ago, there were about 32,500 new voter registrations, with a breakdown of 35.5% Democratic, 34% independent or a third party and 30.5% Republican.

The state didn’t start publishing the data until recently.

Democrats have a slight registration advantage overall in Pennsylvania, with about 45% of voters to 40% for Republicans, according to state statistics. However, the party’s margin has been shrinking steadily over the past decade.

States began enacting automatic voter registration in 2015, and versions of it have now spread to 24 states and the District of Columbia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most of those are left-leaning, but they also include Republican-controlled Alaska, Georgia and West Virginia.

Under Pennsylvania’s new system, when people go to a driver’s license center to obtain or renew a license, the computers there generate a prompt that says they will be registered to vote “unless you decline to register.”

Previously, users were asked if they wanted to register and had to affirmatively check a box saying “yes.”

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States have been required to offer voter registration at driver’s license centers since Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act in 1993.

However, Republicans warned that automatic registration in Pennsylvania would lead to illegal voting. Last week, a group of conservative state lawmakers sued in federal court to block it, saying the governor didn’t have the authority to enact it without legislative approval.

Shapiro’s administration has said it had full legal authority under existing state law and already had protections in place to prevent noncitizens or those under age 18 from being offered registration.

Other states that adopted automatic registration, including Republican-controlled Georgia, have reported an increase in registrations and no problems with noncitizens signing up.

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