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College junior Jaden Cloobeck and College senior Ana Lisa Lowenstein outside of ARCH directing students and staff into the polling site. Credit: Gary Lin

With the 2020 election over and a new presidential administration sworn in, it is understandable that many students feel politically fatigued. The events of 2020 and early 2021 have left many shaken, maybe making us want to tune out or disengage from politics. However, with another election coming in Pennsylvania on May 18, 2021, it remains more critical than ever that Penn students remain civically engaged.

This May, Penn students have an opportunity to continue the youth-voting momentum from the fall. Youth turnout in the 2020 presidential election was significantly higher than it was in 2016, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University. Voter turnout among young people ages 18-29 was roughly 52-55% this past November, compared to a turnout of only 46.1% of those eligible voters in 2016.

While off-year primaries do not receive as much attention as presidential and midterm races, these elections are significant. In May, there will be primary elections in Philadelphia for offices including district attorney as well as numerous state and local judges. Local officials often have a bigger impact on individuals’ lives than the president and other prominent elected officeholders do; they have smaller, more local constituencies, and they deal with a wide range of issues from trash collection to criminal justice that directly impact our day-to-day lives. Consequently, it is important for students to take this opportunity to help shape their community. The race for district attorney is particularly important, as incumbent Larry Krasner will be running for reelection. Krasner made headlines with his improbable win in the 2017 race for district attorney, underscoring the importance of voting in these local elections.

Because many of these elections may not be covered as prominently in the media, students might need to do more research than they would for high-profile national elections. However, researching candidates and making informed decisions is an important civic responsibility, and it is one that Penn students should take seriously. Penn Leads the Vote’s website has resources for students to research and learn about elections in Philadelphia and across the country. Students can register to vote in Philadelphia if this is their first time living at Penn, check their voter registration status, or register in their home state. 

Furthermore, voter turnout tends to be significantly lower in primaries that have no federal elections. In the May 2019 primary elections, only 200 students voted on Penn’s campus. As a result, those who do turn out to vote in the May 2021 elections will have a larger say in deciding the results than voters had last November. This is because, in elections with fewer voters, each individual vote makes up a larger percentage of the overall vote share. Thus, Penn students can have an uncommonly large impact on the outcome of the coming May elections. There is also always a possibility that a race is decided by single-digit margins, as occurred last November when an election for a seat in the House of Representatives was decided by only 6 votes (out of almost 400,000 votes cast). Individual Penn students can be the difference in elections decided by razor-thin margins.

Of course, voting is only one part of being civically engaged, and students cannot only be civically active at the ballot box. Volunteering to help the community is critical, and volunteering with Penn Leads the Vote can help you have an even bigger impact on youth turnout. Encourage others you know to register to vote and stay informed. 

As always, PLTV is available to help with any and every voting-related question or concern. We can be reached at any time via email at Students are also encouraged to visit our website for customized voter information and resources. Penn students, we’ve faced a litany of challenges over the past year. But let’s keep our community in mind and stay civically engaged.

Penn Leads the Vote is the University’s non-partisan election hub. Visit for more information.