The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

Amy Gutmann returns from voting in the 2016 primaries Credit: Julio Sosa

The deadline to register to vote for midterms in Pennsylvania is Tuesday Oct. 9, and student groups and local organizations are working hard to help Penn students register. For students, two of the most popular and convenient ways to register are by mail and online.

Registering by mail

Registering to vote by mail is simple, and many voter registration efforts run by groups on campus have used this option when canvassing.

Government and Politics Association President and College junior Hayley Boote said there have been many efforts taken — often nonpartisan — over the course of the semester to encourage students to vote. 

At these events, groups tend to use the mail system. Boote said GPA has been providing voter registration forms at every event they have hosted so far this year. After filling the form out, students can mail it to the address provided on the form or bring it to any GPA event where GPA members will take charge of mailing the form. 

The form can also be downloaded at home from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission website

“There’s a form, a one page form that anyone can fill out, it asks you basic information — your address, your name, your social security number, or if you don’t have one, your driver's license number," Boote said. "It takes five minutes." 

According to non-partisan voter registration organization HeadCount, it typically takes 5 to 7 weeks for voter registration cards to be sent in the email.

The deadline to register by mail is also Oct. 9 in Pennsylvania, which means the form must be postmarked by that date.

Registering online

Students registering to vote online can fill out a government form, and the only information needed is a valid driver's license and a social security number. The application will then be reviewed by the student’s local county election office, who, upon approval, will send a voter registration card in the mail.

This traditional way can sometimes include multiple steps and is not always accessible, so several outside organizations, such as Rock The Vote and When We All Vote, have been working to make it easier, especially for students.

Rock The Vote President Carolyn DeWitt told The Daily Pennsylvanian that the organization has been working with the Pennsylvania state government to make the process more streamlined for students and has developed an online registration tool to do so. After registration, Rock The Vote sends students customized elections reminders and directs them to resources to get the information they need. 

“You’ll be directed to a sample ballot lookup tool. It’ll show you what’s going to be on your ballot, there will be links to candidate webpages and their social media, directions to voter guides, you will be able to look up where your polling place is,” DeWitt added. 

When We All Vote has also been working to make it even easier for students to access information and materials required to register, said When We All Vote Communications Director Stephanie Young. 

The organization has been leading a text message campaign supported by public figures such as Michelle Obama. Young said students registering simply have to text “WeAllVote" to 97779 and they will be sent all information necessary for the voting process. 

The deadline is also Oct. 9 to register online in Pennsylvania.

Registering out of state

Although Pennsylvania's deadline to register in person, online, or by mail is Oct. 9, other states have later dates. The deadline to register in person or online in New York is Oct. 12 and in California is Oct. 22. The deadline to register in person or by mail in New Jersey is Oct. 16, and the state does not have online registration.

Penn Democrats Political Director and College junior Gabrielle Fink and Boote both noted that while assisting students, they had noticed several common misconceptions surrounding voting. 

“A lot of people don’t know whether they can be registered in two states,” Boote said. “The answer is yes — they can be registered in two states as long as you only vote in one.” 

Fink said another concern for students was whether to vote remotely as a resident of their home state or from Pennsylvania. In these situations, Fink said Penn Democrats spoke to the student to help them decide where to vote from.  

“We would have a conversation about which elections are happening in which areas, which ones are more of a toss up, which could go either way and help them figure out where their vote will matter most," Fink said.

Why it matters

As a part of Penn Dems' effort and emphasis on helping students register to vote, Fink said over 300 freshmen students registered while sitting outside dorms during NSO. Dems was also joined by several other groups on campus, including Boote with GPA, on Sept. 25 for a student registration event at Houston Hall featuring campus favorite Joe Biden.

Leaders of campus groups say they have emphasized voter registration this semester to empower new voters in a politically contentious time.

Both DeWitt and Young agreed with campus leaders that it's more important than ever for students to register.

"[Student] votes count, every single one of them, we can’t afford to leave anything up to chance," Young said. "Our hope is to change the culture around voting — what that means is that we want to make sure that young people, everyone sees, and understands, and recognizes, not just the responsibility, but the benefits around voting."

“The thing I want to emphasize is that most young people don’t participate at the rate that older voters do simply because they’re new voters and they’re new to the process and so one of the things we emphasis at Rock The Vote is it’s okay to feel like you don’t understand everything, it’s okay to, you know, fumble through the process” DeWitt said. “You’re not alone in trying to make your way through your participation in our democracy.”