In the 2014 midterms, Penn students had a dismal voter turnout, with only 19.8% of Penn students voting (PennToday), a number lower than country average. However, recent election statistics and registration initiatives, show that Philadelphia is becoming more civically engaged, and that young adults in particular are flipping the narrative of the politically inactive youth. Considering that local issues affect us all on campus, no matter where we may originally come from, students at the University of Pennsylvania should continue to follow this trend.
In the past year alone, 23,814 voter applications have been filed in the Philadelphia area code (NY Times). Perhaps even more impressive, is the amount that come from the young adult population. Young voters represented the greatest portion of new voter applications. These statistics are not just a novelty, or a by-product of the electronification of the application process, but new registrants are actually showing up to the polls and exercising their right.
In the 2017 Philadelphia primaries, millennial turnout vastly increased by 279% from the 2013 primaries (phillyvoice.com). Despite less than 9,000 turning up to vote in 2013, a whopping 33,686 decided that their voice mattered last year. Local elections matter, as they often concern important and sometimes overlooked issues, such as working rights, policing policies and public projects maintenance (TheHill.com). The growth in the youth voting population indicates that local young adult students are concerned with their rights, and their local community.
Much of this increase in turnout can be attributed to registration campaigns, nonprofit and volunteer work, and even advocacy work by fellow classmates. Citywide get-out-the-vote campaigns, spearheaded by non-partisan, partisan, and issues-specific groups, have mobilized in Philadelphia and nationally to encourage registration in the younger voting-age population. NextGen Rising, a group that promotes progressive policies, has a branch dedicated to young voters in Pennsylvania (NextGen.org), and nationally, has pushed the turnout of 250,000 young voters.
Certain groups have worked to increase turnout in demographic-specific populations, such as Voto Latino, which has a University of Pennsylvania Chapter, that seeks to increase turnout in the young Latinx population (VotoLatino.org). Public city-led campaigns have also played a part in promoting the vote, such as Better Philadelphia Elections Committee, which has specifically worked to promote fair, and accessible voting practices, as a means of preventing any barriers to having a voice represented (seventy.org).
Specifically on Penn’s campus, voter registration tables have popped up along Locust Walk, Hill College House, the Quad, and other Penn buildings throughout the fall semester. On National Voter Registration Day (September 25), the Penn Leads the Vote organized a voter-registration event, which featured a speech by Joe Biden, to truly push civic engagement among Penn students (PennToday).
Students on UPenn’s campus should celebrate their contribution to the city’s increasing civic engagement. However, it’s not enough to stop there. Even without a presidential election this year, elections for US House representatives, US Senators, governors, mayors, state representatives, and state senators are on November 6. Whether in Philadelphia or not, don’t forget to mark your calendars and show up to vote – let’s maintain this positive trend.