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Democracy is based on the notion that the people should govern themselves — that the people have a voice.  When we don’t vote, we lose that voice. In doing so, we do ourselves, and our community a disservice. And this disservice will not be short-lived. The reverberations of the 2018 election will be felt far into the future. If we don’t vote, we won’t have a say in that future. 

Penn Leads the Vote was established in 2004 and re-established in 2018 with this notion in mind. Our goal is simple — to increase voter engagement among Penn’s student body, regardless of party affiliation. During the last midterm elections in 2014, only an abysmal 19.8 percent of Penn students cast their vote. 

But this year, we’re going to change that. 

All across the country, colleges and universities are making it their mission to encourage their students to become more civically engaged, including the University of Pennsylvania. Institutions are recognizing the power that young people have to shape the world from outside the classroom, and they want to help encourage their students to do so. 

Civic engagement starts with registering to vote, but it doesn’t end there. Being civically engaged also means finding the issues that are important to you, and learning about the candidates on your ballot who share your same stances. Being an active member of our democracy means being educated on the issues. The only thing worse than someone who doesn’t vote, is someone who doesn’t know what they’re voting for. 

Credit: Camille Rapay

A common objection is that your singular vote can’t significantly impact the results of an election. However, we’ve seen time and time again that there are elections won by a narrow margin of votes. In an increasingly polarized country, every vote matters even more. In a 2018 special election, Democratic representative Conor Lamb from Pennsylvania won by only 627 votes. In 2016, Republican representative Darrell Issa from California won by only 1,621 votes. If only a few hundred or thousand more people turned out to vote in these elections, the results could have been very different. This is especially true in midterm elections, like the one that is coming up on Nov. 6.

That’s why we are co-sponsoring a National Voter Registration Day event at Penn with the American Constitution Society and the Government and Politics Association. On Sept. 25, from 1-4 p.m., we will be on College Green registering students to vote, educating students on who’s on the ballot, and giving out free food and swag. In the event that it rains, we will be in the Class of '49 Auditorium in Houston Hall. We invite every student to come join us to register to vote and learn more about what it means to truly be civically engaged. 

Not only is it our right, but it is our duty to be civically engaged. As members of the Penn community — graduates and undergraduates — we are all responsible for keeping each other accountable in any way that we can. If you can register to vote in Pennsylvania, do it. If you want to keep voting at home, get an absentee ballot. If you can’t vote in United States elections, encourage your friends to get involved, volunteer, and get the word out about how people can participate in our society. Everyone can, and must, do their part, whatever that may be.

So, register (by Oct. 9). Vote. Encourage your friends to do the same. Democracy is only great when its citizens participate.

BRIAN DOYLE is a co-director of Penn Leads the Vote. His email address is bridoyle@sas.upenn.edu.

NIKKI LIN is a co-director of Penn Leads the Vote. Her email address is nikkilin@sas.upenn.edu.

HAYLEY PILGRIM is the President of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly. Her email address is gapsa.president@gmail.com.

MICHAEL KRONE is the President of the Undergraduate Assembly. His email address is president@pennua.org.

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