There are two big political items coming out of Pennsylvania on Tuesday. The first is a special election in the Pittsburgh area that will determine control of the state’s House of Representatives. The Republicans control the state Senate and Democrat Josh Shapiro is the governor, so control of the House is very consequential and could potentially matter for the outcome of the 2024 presidential election.

But, as Greg Sargent details at the Washington Post, even more significant is Gov. Shapiro’s announcement that Pennsylvania will adopt automatic voter registration.

Automatic registration makes getting on the voter rolls something you have to opt out of, rather than actively sign up for in advance. An underappreciated success story, it has been put into effect in two dozen states, mostly by Democrats. It typically works by automatically registering customers at state Department of Motor Vehicles offices (or other agencies) or by automatically extending them that option, while offering an opt-out alternative…

…The insight behind automatic voter registration is that the registration process often creates a bureaucratic barrier that needlessly dissuades voting, and is sometimes manipulated by vote-suppressors. By keeping a registration process in place while removing the need to affirmatively initiate it, studies show, AVR encourages democratic participation. AVR also tends to make voter rolls more accurate and more up to date…

…In Pennsylvania’s version of automatic registration, residents who are obtaining new or renewed driver’s licenses and state ID cards will be automatically moved through the voter registration process unless they opt out — provided they are eligible voters. This will be achieved using the governor’s control over state agencies that administer processes involving driver’s licenses and voting registration.

Shapiro says there are 1.6 million eligible voters in Pennsylvania who are not registered to vote and that he estimates his reform will sign up tens of thousands of them. Needless to say, this could easily change the outcome of the 2024 presidential election in the state, and in the country.  Consider that in 2016, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania by 44,292 votes and in 2020, Joe Biden defeated Trump by 80,555.

I should note here, however, that based on my experience working as a county coordinator for ACORN in the 2004 presidential election, the people least likely to be affected by this reform are inner city blacks and Latinos who frequently do not own or regularly use cars and are therefore not in much need of going to the Department of Motor Vehicles. They are also less likely to have bank accounts or work at on-the-books jobs, which are other reasons people obtain state-issued identification. This disparity is why Republicans can use Voter ID laws to gain an advantage.

Rural voters, on the other hand, are very dependent on cars and this will boost their registration levels, making it easier for disaffected voters who are culturally aligned with Republicans to cast a vote. In other words, this isn’t some slam-dunk way for Democrats to assure victory, but on the whole greater participation and turnout should at least modestly benefit the Democrats, and I expect the Republicans to whine about Shapiro’s move and accuse him of some kind of fraud.

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