Thanks, Obama: Online voter registration no match for first run

Faster and easier registration didn’t inspire voters like Obama.

Since online voter registration was enacted last August, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State, some 491,000 people used the tool to become new voters. About another 400,000 used it for purposes like switching parties or changing addresses.

Certainly no proponent of democracy will be complaining about nearly 900,000 people using online voter registration, but how much of a difference did the online registration make? Did more people register than in past years?

By comparing total registration numbers to previous presidential election cycles we can estimate some of the online registration’s impact. And perhaps surprisingly it looks like the online effect was not substantial — at least not compared to the effect of having an immensely popular candidate like Barack Obama in 2008. The rise in number of registered voters in Pennsylvania between the primary and now isn’t as large as it has been in most recent election years.

As of Tuesday, the last day Pennsylvanians could register to vote, the number of Pa. voters stood at 8,569,445. That total will likely change in the coming weeks as several counties finish tabulating their data.

From the time of the primary in April to now, the number of voters statewide has increased by about 295,000. That’s not as much of an increase between primary and general election as Pennsylvania saw in 2012, 2008 or 2004.

If you look at the increase in registered voters from November the year before an election to the registration for the general election during a presidential year, this last year hasn’t been anything special either. The increase of 496,000 voters since November 2015 to now ranks behind the similar timeframe for the 2008 and 2004 elections.

Even if the total number of current registered voters goes up — as it most likely will with counties adding up late totals — it’s unlikely these increases will be enough for 2016 to see an above-average increase in voter registration.

The obvious reason for why 2016 trails 2008 in registration increase is Obama. Registrations and turnout were high that year everywhere. As for the massive increases in 2004 for what was a pretty routine election of George W. Bush vs. John Kerry? That’s more of a mystery.

This year, perhaps online voter registration led to more people than registering or updating their registration than otherwise would have. But the advent of online registration didn’t correlate with any kind of massive increase in the number of registered voters for this election.

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