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Credit: Audrey Tirtaguna

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated challenges that Americans face in exercising their right to vote. For students like us, who find themselves scattered across the globe, the challenges may seem daunting. With 29 states and U.S. territories yet to vote this primary election season, including Pennsylvania on June 2nd, Penn Leads the Vote (PLTV) has been working to ensure that all Penn students, regardless of where they vote, are equipped with the resources and knowledge necessary to cast their ballot. We cannot allow the years of historic gains for young voters to stop because of this crisis. The youth voting gap persists. And now, more than ever, we must defend our futures and the health of our democracy by exercising our right to vote. 

If not for the coronavirus pandemic, Penn students would have, for the first time since 2016, been able to vote in the primary on-campus. (State election laws mandate the three primaries in non-presidential election years be held in late May after students leave campus. As a result, Penn and other PA college students remain systematically disenfranchised in primary elections.) However, due to the pandemic, we will not be on campus this year either.  Coronavirus has made college student disenfranchisement not an anomaly, but actually the norm.  

Despite pandemic circumstances, Penn students must build on the progress we’ve made thus far and make our voices heard in this primary election. In fact, while the fervor of the presidential primary may have died down, critical down-ballot races for state and federal representatives and officials remain — people who will determine our future and that of our communities and neighbors. This is our opportunity to show that young people are committed to civic engagement and our futures, regardless of the countless barriers that threaten our right to be heard. 

COVID-19 highlights many real and unnecessary barriers that prevent college students and other Pennsylvania residents from voting freely in all elections, not just the June primary or November general. For the sake of the health of our democracy, this needs to change. To this end, PLTV has drafted a letter to send to the Pennsylvania Secretary of State that builds upon the electoral reform implemented by Act 77 and contains eight concrete recommendations based on firsthand experience on Penn’s campus. After submitting and getting feedback on these recommendations, PLTV hopes to develop a working relationship with the Secretary of State’s office to advocate for reforms. 

The deadline to register to vote in Pennsylvania is May 18, meaning that paper registration forms must be received by the Philadelphia County election office by close of business on May 18. For this election, Philadelphia county will be sending a prepaid return ballot to voters who mail in an absentee ballot or mail-in ballot request. Mail-in ballot applications must be received by the Philadelphia county election office by 5:00 pm on May 26. Voters can find all relevant information on our website

PLTV has also created a special COVID-19 Voter Guide, which presents a holistic explanation of how to vote from home in the upcoming Pennsylvania primary election. While most students at Penn are registered to vote in Pennsylvania, this voter guide also recognizes that there are students registered to vote in their home states, and provides guidance on how to vote there as well. With so many primaries delayed due to the COVID-19 crisis, there remains time to register, learn about your ballot, and vote, either by mail or in-person, this primary election season.

In such uncertain and stressful times, making our voices heard is as critical as ever. It is essential that we remember our role not only as active participants in democracy, but as engaged members of West Philadelphia. By voting in the upcoming primary election, students at Penn will be able to make a difference in who represents our communities in Congress and the state legislature. One person, one vote is perpetually under threat and this year is no different, if not more than ever before.

BENJAMIN OH (C'19) is a Social Policy and Practice student and from Burtonsville, Md. pursuing a Masters of Science in Social Policy. He is the Co-Director of Penn Leads The Vote. His email address is benoh@sas.upenn.edu 

HARRISON FEINMAN is a College sophomore from Los Angeles CA studying politics, legal studies, and history. He is the Co-Director of Penn Leads the Vote, the VP of Federal Affairs for the Penn Policy Consulting Group and Programs Director for Penn Model Congress. His email address is hfeinman@sas.upenn.edu

EVA GONZALEZ is a College sophomore from Ardmore, PA studying political science and Hispanic studies. She is the Co-Director of Penn Leads the Vote, VP of United Nations Affairs for the Penn Policy Consulting Group and Administrative Director for Penn Model Congress. Her email address is evagonz@sas.upenn.edu

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