The country is gearing up for what is being touted as the most important election in a generation. While young people have taken the lead across the country to get out the vote, there are deep concerns on campus that voter turnout among Penn students will be low.
According to data collected by the National Study of Voting, Learning, and Engagement, only 3,271 of Penn’s 16,501 eligible student voters cast a ballot during the last midterm elections in 2014 — a turnout rate of just 19.8 percent. Nationwide, just 21 percent of eligible voters aged 18 to 29 voted in 2014, also far lower than the overall rate of 36.4 percent.
Penn Leads the Vote, a University-funded, student-run, non-partisan organization wants to see these numbers change.
In response to Penn's historically-low turnout, the organization, which was established in 2004 and re-established in 2018, is planning on organizing activities across campus this week, including in student dorms. PLTV, which is only made up of seven students, also formed a Voter Council composed of student leaders and instituted peer voter captains to raise the University’s low turnout rates.
College senior and PLTV co-Director Brian Doyle said he became involved in the initiative when he learned about the student turnout rate for the previous midterm, which he described as “pretty putrid."
One strategy that PLTV has implemented ahead of the election is the creation of ‘voter captains,’ leaders in student groups such as athletic teams, clubs, and Greek organizations, who are responsible for motivating their peers to go to the polls. Captains are tasked with sending out PLTV-provided voter guides, information on polling locations, and reminders about making a voting plan.
So far, around 30 people have signed up and PLTV has received a generally positive reaction, the group's co-director and College senior Nikki Lin said.
“It’s a really easy thing to do. You just post stuff in the GroupMe or send an email,” Lin said. “We’ve had pretty good reception so far, especially from different groups who you might not think would be particularly engaged, like different STEM groups.”
In this way, the initiative aims to create a culture of voting at the University that can raise the turnout numbers across the board.
“The goal is to encourage the peer group to come out and vote, to engrain that in the Penn culture at a bottom-up level,” Doyle said. “That’s what we really want to see, a bigger cultural shift.”
In addition to initiating voter captains, PLTV also formed the Penn Voter Engagement Council, a newly christened coalition between PLTV and student organizations, such as Penn Democrats, College Republicans, and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly. Lin said the Council was designed to foster civic engagement, investigate student involvement, and ultimately increase turnout.
Moving forward, Doyle said he is looking for more opportunities to improve voter turnout and increase awareness around elections. He expressed hope to one day work with faculty to place election day on the syllabus, move exams and essays around election day so students have time to vote, and eventually "the dream" — getting the day off from school.
Student leaders on the Council said they approved of PLTV's mission and believed that more Quakers will turn out to the polls on Nov. 6 than four years ago.
“I think our generation is an informed one with a lot of opinions and passion, and the best way to get decision makers to listen to us is to get out and vote,” said Jon Gould, co-president of Penn Law’s chapter of the American Constitution Society.
Undergraduate Assembly President and College senior Michael Krone made similar remarks, adding that he was planning on sending out an email before election day to the student body to encourage Quakers to vote and be engaged on Nov. 6.
Interim College Republicans President and College senior Richard Murphy said he appreciated that PLTV is a non-partisan organization, and agreed with its goals.
"The Penn College Republicans encourages everyone, regardless of who they support, to go out on Nov. 6 and make their voices heard," Murphy said.