As the nation prepares for the upcoming presidential election, Penn Leads the Vote is working with the University to mobilize on-campus voters and achieve total campus voter registration in eight years.
PLTV, a non-partisan group, the Office of Government and Community Affairs, and the Netter Center for Community Partnerships released Penn’s official 2020-21 voter engagement action plan on June 1. The groups, which are working together for the first time, hope to achieve 100% voter registration for Penn's eligible voters by 2028.
To achieve this goal, the plan proposes to integrate voter engagement and education into institutional programming, including orientation programs and course registration.
PLTV Co-Director and rising College junior Eva Gonzalez said the plan is significant because it demonstrates the University's involvement in voter registration efforts.
“This just goes to show that the University is actually committed to taking more steps, whether that be at the institutional level or otherwise, towards its efforts in student citizenship engagement work," Gonzalez said. "It signifies that it’s not just us leading the charge on our own, but that they’re with us, in it."
The 18-page plan, titled the 'Campus Action Plan for Strengthening American Democracy,' outlines current and future curricular, co-curricular, and West Philadelphia community programming initiatives that showcase the University’s commitment to supporting democratic civic engagement.
It is divided into several subsections that focus specifically on the three involved groups, voter outreach strategies, short-term and long-term goals for the coming academic year, and results of how successful the groups were at achieving their goals.
The action plan also establishes the goal of working beyond the University community through community-focused programs in Philadelphia.
Proposals include integrating K-12 civic learning initiatives that are facilitated through new Academically-Based Community Service Courses and additional summertime programming.
PLTV Co-Director and rising College junior Harrison Feinman added that one of the plan’s strengths is that it holds both Penn and the mission of PLTV accountable for its long-term voter outreach goals.
“Collaboration between students and University departments was a core element of writing it,” Feinman said. “It’s not perfect, but this is a completely unprecedented step by the University. Students need to read this to familiarize themselves with what Penn is committing to do to further the cause of civic engagement on our campus.”
Because the plan was primarily written before the coronavirus pandemic impacted on-campus life, Feinman said it will continue to be updated with registration and turnout count projections based on ongoing data analysis during the pandemic.
He said PLTV's digital resources, such as online registration, will also be prioritized as remote voter engagement methods grow in response to coronavirus public health restrictions, such as stay-at-home orders and social distancing rules, which may affect voter turnout.
“The plan was being written both pre and post COVID-19, and we recognize how important digital engagement can be at a time like this,” Feinman said. “Penn Leads the Vote is going to work with the University to make sure that, moving forward, Penn students will have what they need during what might be a completely online semester.”
Netter Center Emerson fellow, former PLTV Director, and 2019 College and Social Policy and Practice graduate and Benjamin Oh said resources promoting the importance of students’ informed voting are a source of empowerment for the Penn community.
“This plan is just the beginning of a greater movement, both at Penn and beyond,” Oh said. “We don’t know what the fall semester at Penn will look like, and we want our plan to be reflective of understanding those challenges because students are aware of how important the upcoming election will be.”
PLTV has contributed to the more than 450% increase in on-campus voting in midterm elections from 2014 to 2018, and to doubling university turnout in the May 2019 local primary. As stated in the plan, Penn's student voter turnout increased from 19.8% in 2014 to 41.8% in 2018. Two hundred students voted in the May 2019 Primary Election.
Nationwide, 18 to 29 year-olds had a voter turnout rate of 50% in the 2016 General Election, according to data reported by the Brookings Institution.