On Nov. 7, we will have the opportunity to exercise one of the most valuable democratic rights — the right to vote. Regardless of our backgrounds, communities, or academic interests, voting is a privilege that unites us as active participants in the democratic process.
Here in Philadelphia, we will be holding elections for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, a new Mayor of Philadelphia, City Council, and several other important offices.
The privilege we as Penn students have to engage with our political system should not be taken lightly. There are so many communities in this country and around the world that face obstacles participating in government.
Where my family comes from, in Iraq, a complicated and flawed electoral process has left many communities losing trust in their government. Many communities in Iraq, and all over the world, lack faith in the power of their vote, thinking it doesn't make a difference. Even in the U.S., many communities share this sentiment.
But we can do better.
It’s honestly a blessing and a privilege that our biggest obstacle to political participation is getting out the vote. We are fortunate to be part of a reasonably functioning democracy where there are ways we can make changes as voters. But now we need our people to take advantage of the power they have to influence their local political system.
Penn Leads the Vote (PLTV), Penn’s only non-partisan voter-engagement group, is doing this work. PLTV is continuing to broaden the scope of its messaging to reach those communities that have previously been left out of democratic processes. PLTV regularly collaborates with cultural resource centers, class boards, and college houses to engage students from demographics who have historically had the lowest voter turnouts in any election.
More than anything, we want to ensure that the youth is turning out and that people who can and want to make their voices heard are given the opportunity.
The last open Supreme Court seat was decided in 2021 by less than 25,000 votes, 0.8% of the total casted. This year’s race is expected to be just as close. You can learn about the two Supreme Court candidates and their takes on popular issues through this nonpartisan voter guide.
The 17-member city council votes on laws and budgets for education, public health, and other issues concerning Philadelphia residents. For this city council election, students can vote for up to 5 representatives at large as well as their local council representative.
What the judges do matters. What the mayor does matters.
Whatever issue it is you care about, I encourage you to look for ways to engage with them as elections roll in. Engaging with local governments, understanding your politicians’ legislative plans, and encouraging your friends to do the same, are some of the most valuable ways to make an impact. Organizations like Campus Vote Project, Committee of 70, and Andrew Goodman Foundation regularly publish unbiased, non-partisan voter guides to stay up to date. PLTV also creates engagement plans to increase votership and participation on our campus.
Even if politics feel complicated to you or even if you’re not happy with the current state of politics, your turnout still matters. Especially when it comes to local politics. This election will have large, tangible implications on policies surrounding voting rights, public health, and more. State Supreme Court and City Council tend to be significantly less gridlocked than Congress or other nationally elected politicians, so in times like this every vote really counts.
PLTV is doing the work to make this information more accessible. With regular tabling, presentations, and informative events during the year. Visit our website at vote.upenn.edu for more information on engagement and volunteer opportunities.
As we approach this pressing election, let us reflect on the importance of voting and what a privilege it represents. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. On-campus polling locations will be in Houston Hall, ARCH, and Robeson High School. If you’re registered to vote off-campus, find your polling place ahead of time.
Make a plan this year before casting your ballot. Together, we can make our voices heard and shape a better future.
SARAH ALKHAFAJI is a College senior studying Political Science and Modern Middle Eastern Studies. PENN LEADS THE VOTE is the University’s non-partisan election hub. Visit vote.upenn.edu for more information.