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Credit: Max Mester

Despite soon making up the largest portion of the nation’s electorate, Millenials and Gen Z have had historically low voter turnout rates. This gap in turnout can partly be attributed to wide disparities in voter registration. According to a 2016 study from the Census Bureau, only 55% of 18 to 24 year olds were registered to vote, whereas 72% of their older counterparts were registered. Although there has been an uptick in voter registration among young people in recent years, the registration gap remains and continues to have significant consequences on our elections.

It is crucial that Penn students register to vote and show up at the polls this fall. If more young people register to vote, we can shape our nation’s elected officials, policy decisions, and priorities. This is of particular importance in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, where young voters have proven to have an overwhelming influence in elections when they do turn out. For example, in the 2020 general election, the youth voting bloc was critical in handing Joe Biden a victory in the state, which ultimately decided the national presidential election result. With the power and opportunity to sway key elections, young people can achieve their own priorities by getting out and voting.

Penn students, especially first years and students who are new to Philadelphia, should take this opportunity to leave a lasting impact by voting in this fall’s local elections. As a first-year myself, I decided I wanted to get civically involved to create real change in the Penn community. I joined the Penn Leads The Vote team as a field organizer, where I am working towards promoting civic learning, advancing the youth vote, and breaking down the barriers that prevent students from making their voices heard. As first-year students, we are on the cusp of adulthood and becoming new participants in our democracy. It’s critical that we use this opportunity to begin our engaged political lives by building life-long voting and civic habits early. Voting is a rite of passage to independence, civic responsibility, and advocacy.

That’s why Penn Leads the Vote will be hosting a campus-wide event to celebrate National Voter Registration Day. On September 28, from 11a.m. - 3p.m., PLTV staff and volunteers will be registering students, providing important voting information, and handing out free food and merch on College Green. Marking a return to in-person gatherings this fall, National Voter Registration Day will be an opportunity for members of the Penn community to celebrate the importance of being civically engaged.

Civic engagement, however, is so much more than just voting. It is also about educating ourselves on candidates and policy issues, spreading the word about elections, and encouraging others to use their voice too. You too can get civically involved and make a difference in our community by joining Penn Leads The Vote. If you are interested, you can sign up to volunteer and can visit vote.upenn.edu or email pennvoters@upenn.edu if you have any questions or would like to learn more.

In the spirit of National Voter Registration Day, register to vote and encourage your friends to do so as well. Volunteer, learn about the ballot, and use your voice to encourage others to get involved. Show up to the polls and vote on November 2nd. If we rally together, we can shape a better world.

SHRIYA MADHAVARAM is a College first year studying philosophy, politics, and economics from Charlotte, N.C. Her email is shriyama@sas.upenn.edu. PENN LEADS THE VOTE is the University’s non-partisan election hub. Visit vote.upenn.edu for more information.

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