The late congressman and Civil Rights hero John Lewis once said, “The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy.”
My 18th birthday was Oct. 22, 2008, 13 days before the 2008 election. I was finally of age to have a voice in our democracy. Voting is our power, and I was thrilled to register to vote. I didn’t fully understand this at 18, but, as citizens, voting is the best, and most impactful thing we can do to change our country.
We are quickly approaching the day of the general election on Nov. 3, and your vote matters. We wanted to remind you to check your voter registration and learn about voting methods, and to share with you other ways to engage beyond casting your ballot.
Register or Check Your Registration
Most states have voter registration deadlines, meaning that you need to register to vote in advance of Election Day. In Pennsylvania, the registration deadline is 15 days before the election, so this year, the deadline to register is October 19. The voter must be 18 years of age before or on the day of the election. You can register online or in-person. To learn more about registering to vote in Pennsylvania, visit votespa.com.
If you are not registered to vote and live in a different state, check to see if you can still register here: https://www.vote.org/voter-registration-deadlines/
If you are already registered or think you might be registered and haven’t voted in the last few elections, check your voter registration status. Voter roll purges, a known method of voter suppression, happen often and it is important to catch any possible problems before Election Day. Check your registration here.
Make a Plan to Vote
Early Voting: Some states allow early voting in person at designated polling places or by mail. Essentially, this method simply extends the amount of time by which voters can get their votes in to be counted by the proper authorities. This process varies state by state. This is the first year that Pennsylvania is allowing in-person absentee voting. Starting September 28, voters can go to a designated polling place and request a mail-in ballot to fill out and return right there.
Other states like South Carolina and Nebraska started early voting on October 5. Find out more about how your state handles early voting here.
Mail-in Ballots: Voting by mail is a safe and common way to cast a ballot in the United States. For example, Oregon operates its elections solely through vote by mail, and it is consistently ranked as a national leader in voter turnout. Every registered voter in Oregon receives a ballot two to three weeks before an election, and the ballot can be mailed or dropped off at any official drop box across the state.
2020 is the first year that Pennsylvania is offering mail-in voting. If you are voting by mail in Pennsylvania, be sure to remember the secrecy envelope. A September Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision mandates that all ballots must be placed in the secrecy envelope and then sent in the outer envelope.
For clear instructions, please read this Billy Penn article. The last day to apply to vote by mail in Pennsylvania is October 27.
Absentee: Absentee voting is similar to vote by mail, but voters typically must have a reason as to why they are voting absentee to qualify for this type of ballot. For example, college students who may be registered to vote at their permanent address instead of at their dorm room address.
The last day to apply for an absentee ballot in Pennsylvania is also October 27.
In-Person: Our common understanding of what Election Day looks like comes from in-person voting. Voters can go to their designated polling place and cast their ballot. You can find your polling place on your registration card or go to https://www.vote.org/polling-place-locator/ to find your state’s polling place locator.
If you are a first-time voter, be sure to research what you need to bring with you to vote. In Pennsylvania, first-time voters need to bring an approved proof of identification.
You may feel like all you hear and see ahead of Election Day are political ads, but remember that it is important to do your own independent research before voting. Be sure to check out your local school board candidate’s website; don’t focus only on the national races. Another great source of information for local elections is your local newspaper or media outlet.
If you want to be involved in Election Day beyond voting, volunteer to be a poll worker. Older adults make up the majority of poll workers in the United State of America, and due to the coronavirus pandemic, many are opting out of volunteering in 2020. Visit powertothepolls.org to learn more about becoming a poll worker and how you can help your fellow citizens on Election Day.
We Americans often talk about our country as the leader of the free world, but we have a voter turnout that is lower than most developed countries. Democracy only functions when people participate. Americans have fought and died to have their voices heard in our government, and the least we can do is cast a ballot each and every time we have the opportunity.
Be a voter.