Show up or be shut out

By Mary Kadlec

Pennsylvania law currently requires residents to register at least 30 days before an election to vote in that election. (David Swanson/TNS)

The 2020 U.S. general election is more than a year away, but experts say it’s never too early to start participating in the American democracy. Begin with the 2019 local elections.

Voter turnout for local elections has historically lagged behind general (presidential) elections. According to election data from the Pennsylvania State Department, voter turnout can be as low as 20 percent for local elections, compared to an average of 60-70 percent for general elections.

There are a variety of reasons why people don’t vote: they have challenges registering, they can’t get to the polls on Election Day, they don’t think their vote will make a difference, they don’t know the deadlines, or they don’t know anything about the candidates.

Voting advocates have started tackling these issues to improve voter turnout. One way to help voter registration challenges is to make it automatic. Thus far, 12 states and the District of Columbia provide automatic registration when citizens interact with state agencies, such as a driver’s license center.

Another way to make voting easier is to consolidate local elections with mid-term and general elections so citizens are voting less frequently. According to the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), five states changed their local elections to coincide with state and national races before the 2016 election.

More than 20 states have also enacted same day registration, “which allows any qualified resident of the state to register to vote and cast a ballot all in that day,” according to the NCSL.

Several states have taken measures to ensure citizens can vote even if they cannot get to the polls on Election Day. Pennsylvania will be accepting online applications for absentee voting for the first time in 2019. Additionally, early voting options are available in over 40 states.

However, same day registration and early voting are not offered in Pennsylvania.
Despite these recent efforts to make voting more accessible, U.S. citizens have hardly made an enthusiastic effort to get to the polls. This is especially true for young adults ages 18-24.

According to the Campus Vote Project, “Millennials and Generation Z will be the largest share of voters in the 2020 general election, but have not been the largest share of the electorate in previous elections due to their lower voting rates.”

Furthermore, community college students make up nearly half of the undergraduate population, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.

Marita Green, Voter Services Chair of the Delaware County League of Women Voters (LWV), said community college students should have an interest in local elections particularly because decisions made at this level impact the quality of education, community, and daily life.

DCCC is funded with state and federal support. Without this support, students would not have access to low tuition rates, financial assistance, or a quality education.

Additionally, many students are concerned about what happens after community college completion regarding employment, debt, and living.

Cody Brighton, campaign manager for the Republican Party Delaware County Council candidates, emphasized how much local government shapes workforce development and economic opportunity decisions.

County Council supports workforce development by partnering with several organizations to provide resources to job seekers and employers. “Career Pivot” is a workshop at DCCC and one example of a partnership with County Council and Delaware County Works.

Finding an affordable place to live is also important. It is well known that Delaware County, Chester County, and Bucks County have the highest property taxes in Pennsylvania. Property taxes are assessed and collected at the county level.

In addition to finding a job and a place to live, residents care about the quality of their communities.

According to Colleen Guiney, Delaware County Democratic Chairwoman, council members make decisions that impact infrastructure such as water treatment, waste disposal, open land use, roads, and communication systems.

“It’s important to ensure that if a resident dials 9-1-1, there will be an immediate response,” Guiney said.

Since there are a number of ways that citizens are impacted by decisions made at the local level, many believe it is crucial that eligible voters, particularly the large population of young adults, remain engaged in the political process to make informed decisions that could make a difference in their daily lives.

So, here is a step-by-step guide to ensure registered voters are prepared for the Nov. 5 local election:

Verify your registration status

Eligible voters must be 18 years old on or before Nov. 5. They must be citizens of the United States for at least 30 days prior to the election, and residents of Pennsylvania and the election district in which they intend to vote.
Verifying registration status or updating voter information, such as a new address, last name, or change of party, can be done online, at a voter registration event, or by calling the voter registration office in Delaware County. The process can be completed in fewer than 10 minutes.

Register to vote

If you are not registered yet, fill out a voter registration form online through the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s website, or in person at the county voter registration office, local government buildings, or libraries.

Voter registration cards are mailed within 14 days of submitting an application.

If you know you’ll be away from your municipality on Election Day, submit an application for an absentee ballot on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s website. Then, send or deliver your absentee ballot application to the Bureau of Elections. The Bureau of Elections is located on the ground floor of the Government Center Building, next to the Courthouse, at 201 W. Front St. Media, Pa. 19063. If accepted, a paper absentee ballot will be mailed to you with instructions.

Know the deadlines

In Pennsylvania, you must register to vote before Oct. 7.

Absentee ballot applications must be received by Oct. 29.

The Bureau of Elections must receive absentee ballots by 5 p.m. on Nov. 1.

Do your research

Learn what races will be on the ballot. In addition to school board members, township supervisors, and ward commissioners, Delaware County voters will elect a district attorney, a magisterial judge, three County Council members, and four judges for the Court of Common Pleas on Nov. 5.

The League of Women Voters Education Fund (vote411) provides nonpartisan information for elections, including voter registration information, polling locations, and a personalized voter guide with information on the candidates and their responsibilities.
For example, the LWV explains that judges on the Court of Common Pleas serve 10-year terms and make decisions about custody disputes, alcohol and drug offenses, and criminal prosecutions.

Most candidates, even in local elections, have websites or social media pages with information about their platform and upcoming events.

Obtain a sample ballot from the local party office within a week of the election. Sample ballots show which candidates each party has endorsed. Poll greeters also distribute sample ballots outside of polling locations.

If you are not certain of your registration status, check online on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s website or contact the voter registration office in your county. The Delaware County contact is (610) 891-4659 or DelcoElection@co.delaware.pa.us.

Voter registration drives will be held across the county until Oct. 7. For more information, contact the League of Women Voters or review the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s website, http://www.votespa.com.

Contact Mary Kadlec at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu

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