Although the Pennsylvania general election does not take place until Nov. 8, committed Swarthmore students and on-campus organizations such as Swarthmore Democrats and the non-partisan voting group SwatVotes, have begun mobilizing their efforts towards voter registration and increasing voter turnout. According to data conducted by the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, in 2020, the voting rate among Swarthmore students was 75.9%, compared to the national institutional average of 66%.
This year, student groups are focusing their efforts towards emphasizing the exceptional nature of the midterm election in Pennsylvania, as it will feature a number of key state-wide races, including contested gubernatorial and senate races that will have an impact on many key issues concerning reproductive rights, gun control, and climate change.
On Friday, Sept. 9, Swarthmore Democrats hosted a voter registration drive at Swarthmore College with United States Representative from the Fifth District of Pennsylvania Mary Gay Scanlon. The Phoenix spoke with Rep. Scanlon about the heightened importance of voter registrations on college campuses, especially following COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on college campuses.
“We’re concerned that, because so many [students] were off campus the last couple of years, the campuses may have lost a little muscle memory with respect to how to register to vote,” she said. “I want to make sure as well that students understand the very distinct threats that we’re seeing in Pennsylvania right now.”
Rep. Scanlon pointed to a number of threats facing Pennsylvania voters including Senate Bill 106, a bundle of proposed state constitutional amendments that passed through the Pennsylvania General Assembly this summer. The proposed amendments will change the Pennsylvania Constitution by setting strict voter ID laws and restricting abortion access across the state. Should the bill pass through the state legislature twice, the proposed amendments will appear on the ballot in 2023, and voters will be able to vote for the proposed amendments at the polls. Currently, both houses of the Pennsylvania General Assembly are controlled by Republicans, so the results of the upcoming election in November will determine whether Senate Bill 106 makes its way to the voters next year.
This November, the race for governor will also prove consequential for Pennsylvania. In an email to The Phoenix, SwatVotes president Sam Winickoff ’23 mentioned that the result of the race will determine the makeup of the Pennsylvania state government and may impact the passage of the Republican-proposed bills that have passed through the General Assembly.
“The governor’s race to replace term-limited Democratic Governor Tom Wolf is likely to determine whether Republicans have full control over PA state government,” he wrote. “Its outcome has the potential to impact many issues determined on the state level, including the legality of abortion in PA, voting rights, and education policy.”
In an interview with The Phoenix, Swarthmore Democrats co-president Emmy Stavis ’24 also commented on the governor’s race. She mentioned that the governor will appoint the next Pennsylvania Secretary of State, who is responsible for certifying the results of the 2024 presidential election, a power that played a large role in the events on Jan. 6, 2021.
“The Republican candidate for governor [Doug Mastriano] was at the Jan. 6 insurrection, so you can imagine what type of Secretary of State he might appoint,” she said. “Pennsylvania could easily determine the outcome of the presidential election in 2024, and the scenario in which the PA Secretary of State sabotages the vote is, unfortunately, a reality that I think we need to consider.”
Rep. Scanlon mentioned that there are also many contested seats in the United States Senate, including one in Pennsylvania currently held by Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey. These seats are vital for Senate Democrats trying to pass bills, because the current Republican-controlled Senate has made it difficult for Democrats in Congress to enact many of their proposed bills.
“If I’m cynical about anything in D.C., it’s the Senate because [the House has] passed hundreds and hundreds of bills and [Senate Republicans] don’t [consider] anything. And they blocked all the voting rights [bills] that we’ve tried to put through,” she said. “[We passed] a safety law in July for the first time in 30 years, so we got some things through but it’s just a drop in the bucket.”
Out-of-state students can have an impact on these important elections by registering to vote in Pennsylvania. In an interview with The Phoenix, Swarthmore Democrats Co-President Ian Shayne ’24 discussed potential reasons why an out-of-state student may consider registering in Pennsylvania.
“By registering in Pennsylvania, an out-of-state student from an overwhelmingly red or blue state can more effectively promote the causes they support,” Shayne claimed. “For example, in November, my vote in Pennsylvania will help decide whether abortion remains legal in PA. I would not have the same opportunity to advance the pro-choice cause if I voted in my overwhelmingly blue home state.”
Stavis highlighted one such case where individual votes mattered greatly: the Pennsylvania Republican primary. The primary was held in May, although the result of the Senate race was drawn out for a number of weeks following the primary, as Republican candidate Dave McCormick contested the race, calling for a recount.
“In the PA Republican U.S. Senate primary, for example, Mehmet Oz only won by around 900 votes. If you think about that compared to the size of the student body at Swarthmore, it becomes really clear that, statistically speaking, your vote matters more here than it does in a state like New York or Alabama,” she said.
First-time voters who wish to register using Swarthmore’s address and out-of-state voters wishing to change their registration to Swarthmore must register by Oct. 24 in order to qualify for voting in the November general election. In the coming week, SwatVotes plans to host a voter registration drive for National Voter Registration Day on Tuesday, Sept. 20. Representatives from SwatVotes will be located in the Science Center Commons from 11:00 a.m. through 4:30 p.m. with stickers and Insomnia Cookies, and they will be able to answer questions students may have about checking registration or voting.
To cast their ballot, students may either vote in person or with a mail-in ballot. The deadline for requesting a mail-in or absentee ballot is Nov. 1, and the deadline that the ballot must be received by the election board is Nov. 8.
Students who vote in person should prepare before they cast their ballots. There are two locations where Swarthmore students can vote in person: either at the Swarthmore Rutledge School or at CADES (Children and Adult Disability and Educational Services). Students who are unsure of where they are assigned should check their voter registration, as it determines polling location. In addition, voters should ensure that they bring identification with their full government name to their respective polling location.
Students looking for further information about the election and registration have access to many different resources. The college’s website houses extensive and user-friendly information about registration, as well as Swarthmore’s Get Out the Vote Committee that was formed in February 2018 by President Valerie Smith.
SwatVotes is another resource students can refer to if they are looking for additional information. Winickoff wrote about ways in which students can get involved.
“SwatVotes is an excellent resource for students on campus! We are a nonpartisan student group focused on making sure Swarthmore students can register to vote and cast their ballots,” he said. “We are happy to help you register, check your registration, or answer any of your voting questions. You can stop by one of our events this fall or fill out the form at tinyurl.com/SwatVotesHelp and a SwatVotes representative will contact you. Follow @SwatVotes on Instagram to stay up to date, and DM with any questions.”
Rep. Scanlon hopes voters — especially students — remain engaged in learning about the issues. She stressed that voters across the country can make an impact on the future by voting and encouraging others to vote as well.
“We are at a turning point with people that are voting. We’d love it if they vote here because we have such critical elections here in Pennsylvania, but wherever they are, residents can vote,” she said. “And please engage otherwise … there are many opportunities for people to text and canvas, and work on turnout.”