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Members of Penn Leads the Vote help community members on Election Day at the ARCH polling station on Nov. 3, 2020.

Credit: Gary Lin

Political groups at Penn are excited to mobilize a repopulated campus to promote civic education and engagement ahead of National Voter Registration Day on Sept. 28. 

Since 2012, National Voter Registration Day has served as a nonpartisan holiday celebrated on the fourth Tuesday of September to celebrate America’s democracy and urge citizens to stay involved with the political process. Student groups like Penn Leads the Vote and Penn Democrats are looking to use this day to increase civic awareness and excitement on campus, emphasizing the importance of participating in local elections and improving the commonwealth's voter registration process. College Republicans did not respond to request to comment on their plans for National Voter Registration Day.

In the upcoming municipal election on Nov. 2, voters will help shape Pennsylvania's courts, elect new judges to Philadelphia courts, and vote for the city's district attorney, according to Ballotpedia, a nonpartisan political encyclopedia for American elections. 

College senior and PLTV Co-Director Eva Gonzalez said PLTV, a nonpartisan, student-run political program on campus, is sponsoring an event this Tuesday on College Green to spread awareness about the upcoming election and help students finalize their voting plans. There will be tables on Locust Walk with interactive activities and posters to give students information about registering to vote in person or with an absentee ballot, along with free food and PLTV merchandise.

Gonzalez said PLTV's plans look very similar to its National Voter Registration Day event from 2019, where members were able to register a record number of new voters. With in-person operations resuming this semester, she said that PLTV is optimistic that masked, in-person events will draw more students to group events than the online programming did last year.

“We tried getting the word out online last semester, but now we're really excited for everyone to be on campus and able to gather again,” Gonzalez said. “We are just excited to celebrate being together and having a bunch of new students in Philadelphia who are able to register to vote and make their voices heard as members of this community that they were only members of virtually last year.”

College sophomore and Penn Dems Political Director Noah Lewine agreed with Gonzalez, saying that it has been “significantly easier and more effective” to get students registered to vote face to face than in the online environment. The group, which has had a table on campus a few days a week since classes began, has registered nearly 300 people to vote so far this semester, Lewine said. 

Lewine believes that one of the main issues with engaging potential voters virtually is that Pennsylvania has made it difficult for people to register to vote, especially online. If people do not have a Pennsylvania driver's license or ID number, they must include a signature to complete the voter registration process online. 

“There are things that politicians have done to make it harder for people to register to vote and become voters,” Lewine said. “Having people in front of you who know how the system works and can help you through these things is great. It's really important to ensure that your vote counts.”

Gonzalez said National Voter Registration Day allows political organizations across the country to make a concentrated effort toward increasing the number of registered voters nationwide.

According to data from the 2020 United States Census, nearly a third of eligible Americans are not registered to vote. While an estimated 50% of people aged 18-29 voted in last year’s presidential election, an 11-point increase from 2016’s 39%, the national voter turnout in this same age group still remains lower than other age groups nationally. 

College first year and PLTV field organizer Shriya Madhavaram said she hopes students will utilize PLTV's resources, get registered to vote, and show up on Election Day in order to continue to close this voter turnout disparity. Madhavaram said politicians in the United States. will have to adapt their policy decisions if younger voters become a bigger part of the electorate in the future. 

“[Younger voters] are typically underrepresented in local, state, and national elections. It is important to stay informed and always be involved in politics,” Madhavaram said. “In these off years, when it's just municipal elections, not a lot of people turn out. As the youth vote, we can create a lot of change or sway elections more.”

Referencing the record turnout seen in the 2020 presidential election for Americans across different demographics, Gonzalez said that she hopes people realize how important it is to continue the momentum for future elections.

“It is important to vote in national elections, but a lot of the decisions that you're seeing being made in your everyday life are by people who get elected in local elections, so that is a really important reason why people should be voting this fall,” Gonzalez said. “Voters can make their voices heard in their community and have a meaningful impact on the everyday lives of their peers.” 

Lewine said the path to becoming a registered voter must become as straightforward as possible in order to create a more civically aware populace. 

If people vote once, Lewine said they are much more likely to vote in following elections because they understand the process. While he said Penn Dems is doing important work at Penn now, he hopes voting is reformed from either the federal or state level in the future.

“What's next is making voting more accessible for young people, and that is what we are trying to do,” Lewine said. “We want to try to make voting as accessible as we can for people on campus, and we hope that, over time, legislators will start to make it easier for young people to vote.”