Although daily life in the United States has been upended by the coronavirus pandemic, politics must go on in a crucial election year.
With the date of the Pennsylvania Democratic primary in flux, Penn's political student groups are continuing to encourage student voter turnout — despite physical limitations and the uncertainty of voting procedures amid COVID-19.
Lacking their usual physical presence on campus, groups like Penn Democrats and Penn Leads the Vote are being forced to adapt and ensure that as many students as possible still engage with the election, creating an electronic COVID-19 voting guide and using other virtual materials to stay connected with and inform young voters.
Currently, the primary is scheduled for April 28, but Pa. lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf plan to delay the election until June 2, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
PLTV Co-director and College sophomore Harrison Feinman noted that before the pandemic led students to move off-campus, the group planned weekly and bi-weekly tabling events across campus to register students to vote. The group also planned to partner with other student organizations and hold in-person events that will no longer be possible.
Feinman also expressed concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic will deter more voters than usual from casting their vote.
“With everything that’s going on, there’s likely going to be less voter turnout anyways,” Feinman said. “Student voices are critically important, and more so now.”
PLTV is now working on a COVID-19 Voter Guide that is scheduled to be published early next week. The guide will include details about an electronic registration system, which allows voters to draw their signature on a tablet or smartphone so that students are still able to register to vote remotely.
PLTV is also working to renovate their website for students and continually update the website with the most up-to-date details about new electronic voting resources, or any changes that state governments are making to their primary elections.
So far, primary elections in Georgia, Connecticut, Indiana, Ohio, Rhode Island, Louisiana, and Kentucky have been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
College sophomore and Penn Dems Political Director Michael Nevett said he is in touch with local government officials, including city commissioners, who are still figuring out what will happen on election day.
In place of the Locust Walk tabling events that the group had originally planned, Penn Dems Communications Director and College first-year Emma Wennberg said the group called all members to remind them to request an absentee ballot.
“We’re trying our best to still build our community across distance, even with smaller things like virtual social events and things like that, just to keep the connection with our members," Wennberg said.
Similarly to Feinman, Wennberg worried about how the pandemic will affect voter turnout.
“It’s a confusing time for voters, especially when they are getting such mixed messages from their government — who is telling them both that they should stay home and not interact with people, but also that they should be expected to go out and vote," Wennberg said.