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City Hall is one of Philadelphia's two permanent elections offices where residents can vote early in person. 

Credit: Jintong Wu

With the expansion of early voting in Pennsylvania this year, many Philadelphia residents and Penn students have already cast their ballots and are encouraging others to do so weeks before Nov. 3.

For College junior Jay Falk, making early voting easy and accessible for Penn and West Philadelphia students is vital to increasing youth voter turnout for this election. Falk ran a Bus2Vote event on Oct. 23 that brought eight Penn students, Philadelphia high school students, and other Philadelphia residents to one of 17 early voting locations at Overbrook Elementary School in West Philadelphia.

Falk, who founded the High School Voter project through the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, received a $10,000 grant from the non-partisan organization When We All Vote to fund the Bus2Vote events. The High School Voter Project used the money to rent buses and purchase lunch for the voters they brought to Overbrook, she said.

The bus made stops at 40th and Walnut streets for Penn students and 58th and Walnut streets for West Philadelphia high school students. The second and final Bus2Vote event will take place on Oct. 26.

“What you're going to see in early voting states is that young people are coming out much more than they have in 2016, and the accessibility of absentee voting with no excuse is what makes that possible,” Falk said.

In-person early voting began on Sept. 29 and will conclude on Oct. 27, coinciding with the last day to request a mail-in ballot. The City of Philadelphia has two permanent elections offices — City Hall and Columbus Boulevard at Spring Garden Street — where residents can vote early in person. 

To make voting accessible during the COVID-19 pandemic, the city has opened 15 new satellite election offices throughout the city where residents can fill out and submit mail-in ballots. The satellite offices allow citizens voting with a mail-in ballot to avoid using the United States Postal Service, which has experienced significant delays due to the influx of voting by mail. 2020 is the first year any Pennsylvania voter can vote by mail.

After Oct. 27, the satellite offices will only be open for people dropping off ballots. The offices are open seven days a week, 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday, and will operate through Election Day on Nov. 3. 

Similar to Falk, many other Penn students have taken advantage of Philadelphia’s early voting options. Students cited Penn’s decision not to cancel classes on Election Day and wanting to ensure their votes are cast as reasons for voting early.

College sophomore Michelle Mahecha Perez, who hails from New York, said she was unable to register to vote in Pennsylvania online. She decided to register and vote at the City Hall elections office. 

Upon arriving at City Hall, however, she encountered a two-hour wait time and decided to vote at Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, one of the satellite elections offices. There, Mahecha was able to confirm her registration, fill out her ballot, place it in the secrecy envelope, and deposit her ballot.

Although the city originally planned to open all 17 early voting locations by Sept. 29, only seven opened due to staffing shortages. The city has continued to roll out the opening of offices throughout early voting, with the last locations opening on Oct. 19 — approximately one week before early voting concludes.

Mahecha said she decided to vote early as Penn decided it would not give students and faculty the day off to vote on Election Day. She said she did not want to wait until Nov. 3 and potentially not have time to vote.

“I think that this election is too important to run the risk of your vote not being counted and not being able to vote,” Mahecha said. “You have to look at this election not like Election Day is the only day, but rather that’s the day that voting ends.”

Penn has consistently cited Pennsylvania state regulations as the main factor preventing it from canceling classes on Nov. 3.

When College junior Jaden Cloobeck originally requested his Pennsylvania mail-in ballot, he was still living in his home state of California. Mid-semester, however, he decided to return to Philadelphia, and had his family mail him his ballot when it arrived at his home in California. Cloobeck used the City Hall elections office to directly deposit his ballot in person on Oct. 15. 

He noted that there was a long line for people looking to receive and fill out a ballot but almost no line to drop off his filled-out ballot.

"It was just a marvelous experience to see how many people were waiting in line to vote early on a Thursday morning," he said.

Although Cloobeck opted to vote on Election Day in 2018, he wanted to vote early this year and deposit his ballot in person to bypass any security issues or delays from USPS.

“This year, I wanted to try out early voting and see how it is, especially during a pandemic,” Cloobeck said. “If there's a way I can reduce exposure to large groups of people, as well as save me a lot of time, I'd be happy to do that.”

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