Drexel 2020 Campus Election Engagement Project (CEEP) fellows Sarah Resanovich (left) and Carlie McWilliams (right).
Not sure whether to vote early or on Election Day? Confused by the difference between mail-in and absentee voting? Not even registered yet? Have no fear, your friendly, neighborhood Drexel Campus Election Engagement Project (CEEP) fellows are here to help (virtually).
Sarah Resanovich, a fourth-year hospitality management student, and Carlie McWilliams, a fourth-year elementary education student, spoke with DrexelNow about some of the most common questions they’ve already heard from students and how and why Dragons should make time to vote this year, as well as the importance of making a voting plan.
Q: What are the key things you think college students are already most aware of when it comes to voting and the process of doing so?
Resanovich: I think that they’re already aware of their home state’s rules. So, if they've grown up and they've gone to the polls with their parents, and maybe seen how the voting process works. That's something people are usually are more confident in.
I think they're also confident in knowing where they can register to vote. It tends to be more on the application questions where people might get a little confused or on specific requirements.
McWilliams: I think probably — and this is just from my experience from my friends and I voting for the first time — they know who they want to vote for and what their morals are in that sense. So, I think it's also they have their ideas in place, but then it becomes navigating, “Well how am I going to vote? How does mail-in ballot work? How does the early voting work?” They know the general idea of what these things are, but when it comes to actually going through the process, I think that's when the questions start to arise.
Q: What are they least aware of? What are some of the most difficult things to understand or processes to navigate?
Resanovich: I think what I find is mail-in ballots can sometimes be confusing, and then deciding where to vote.
As a college student, you have dual residency, so you can vote in your hometown or in Philadelphia in the case of Drexel. So sometimes making that decision, there's misinformation that goes around, that it affects your taxes or your parent's taxes. That is not the case. Your voter registration does not influence that. So, I think that is probably the most common misconception. You have the choice. It's all about where you want to vote and where it's going to be easiest for you to vote.
And then, if you do choose to vote via mail-in ballot, that sometimes can be confusing because each state has its own process. … For most people, a mail-in ballot and an absentee ballot will be the same, but they're technically different. An absentee ballot, in many states, requires an excuse. In most of those states now, COVID-19 does count as a valid excuse. So, for example, I'm from the state of New York and we have absentee voting by mail, which is really confusing.
So you can check off, in the case of New York State, temporary illness or fear of getting COVID-19 as a valid excuse, but you still do need an excuse to vote as opposed to some states that have universal mail-in voting, so people get sent ballots automatically. So, for example, for this election, New Jersey is going to be sending out ballots to all registered voters. They can still choose to vote in-person if they want, but they're going to have to bring that mail in ballot with them to the polls.
That's definitely a struggle, having mismatched voter laws [by state], particularly for college students who can get caught in both of them. … Sites like Campus Elect and Rock the Vote have really helpful graphics where you click on your state and it brings up all the rules and regulations in one spot.
Q: What can trip students up in terms of voter registration?
Resanovich: It's a quick and easy process, but it is important to note, if you’re registering in Pennsylvania and you do not have a PA driver's license, you're still allowed to vote, but you're going to have to print up your application. You're not going to be able to submit it online. You have to print it up and mail it in. Or, in the case of Philadelphia, you can walk it to City Hall.
For anyone near campus, [Drexel University Libraries] is open and available for printing, and you can do that there. That is important to note. You can still register to vote without a PENNDOT ID, but you're going to have to take that slight extra step.
McWilliams: I think there are some miscommunications or confusions with registration in general. I'm still learning, too. I’ve gone through a lot of different things, and I think one important thing to note is that it's really easy if you just look up your county clerk office, you can call and you can change your registration, you can make changes.
I had to do that. For example, I had to change my address here in Pennsylvania for my mail-in ballot, and I actually was not really sure how to go about it. So, I just figured I'll just call the office, and they directed me to the Board of Elections. Then I spoke with someone and I just figured it out there and they were able to change it for me very easily. I think that's really important to know. … It's really important to utilize those clerk offices in your county and just call them because they know what they're talking about and they’re really helpful. That’s just one overall general concern — knowing your resources and knowing where to find them and how they can help you.
Q: What are the most important changes due to the pandemic that students should be aware of for this election?
Resanovich: I think it's just even more important to make a plan to vote. There's lots of options to vote. You can vote by mail, you can vote early, or you can vote on Election Day. As we discussed earlier, it is annoying because every state is slightly different in how it allows you to do those things. But in most states, there's an option of either of those. So with the pandemic, health is a major concern and also we are expecting poll lines to be longer this year on Election Day, which is why we are encouraging people to vote early.
If you do want to vote on Election Day, Drexel does have [an early dismissal at 2 p.m.], which is great. So you have time to do that now. If you are traveling home to vote, you just want to make sure you have a plan, whether it's to get a train, a bus or to drive home. I think that's really going to be the key thing here is planning ahead. … You also have organizers and lots of people who are able to help you make a plan to vote and connect you with resources you need. So, you're still able to vote in all the ways that you normally are. It's just a matter of planning it out. Make sure you bring your PPE to the polls. Most places will have a mask for you if you don't have one, but it's really good to be prepared. And also, I would check everything ahead of time. You can go to RocktheVote.org and you can get all the requirements for if you need voter ID in your state, anything like that. I think it's going to be really important to just plan ahead.
McWiliams: Knowing your options right now and knowing how you feel is best to vote for your situation, I think just keeping that in mind is really helpful. Also, just double checking your ballot, making sure that everything is filled out correctly because you don’t want it to be an invalid ballot or anything like that.
I think it's just really important to, again, use your time wisely for this election. If you can early vote, great. If you can make it to the polls on Election Day, awesome. As long as you have a plan set in stone, I think it's what really matters.
Q: What is the biggest barrier for college students when it comes to voting?
Resanovich: I think time is definitely a big one. We're on the quarter system here at Drexel, so I get that I can get really hectic, especially since, this year, Election Day is around midterms. But it is really important. That's why it's great to have so many options.
I think the other thing is simpler things we don't always think about. Like, if you're planning to vote by mail or send in a voter application, something like access to a printer and/or stamps. Some people just don't have stamps lying around because we're in college and you're not necessarily mailing things frequently. So, it's important to be able to locate the nearest Postal Service office. There is one right near campus [at 3000 Chestnut St.], which is great. You can buy individual stamps so you can mail in your ballot.
So sometimes it's the simple things, especially during the pandemic. A lot of the resources we normally have are not available. So, if there are certain areas where you use printers that aren't available, it might mess up your routine, which I completely get. That’s why it's important to know the library offers printing and that they're stamps right down the road.
McWilliams: I know for myself and in my personal experience, I have had to reach out to my mom or someone who has experience with voting to try and figure out how to go about something because, unfortunately, this is not something I really learned about in school. So, for some people, maybe not all, but it might be something where you have to take initiative to figure out where to find your resources and what is the best method for you voting.
…I'm really glad that we have a lot of resources that we've been sharing on our Instagram page, because I wish I had that in the past. I think that it's really helpful to have fellow students who are sharing that with you and who are, for the most part, on-call to answer any questions.
We've gotten a few DMs with questions about voter registration stuff and I think things like that, it's really important, because it can be intimidating. It can be a really intimidating process if you don't want to call anyone on the phone or anything like that.
So that's why we're trying to offer as many resources and ways to reach out for information as much as possible.
Q: Why and how should students take advantage of the early closure on Election Day?
Resanovich: I've been encouraging a lot of students reach out and talk to your professors. If you have a class that's before 2 p.m., most of them will be understanding if you have to leave early or come a little late if you're voting.
Also, Pennsylvania and Philadelphia specifically are still in need of a lot of poll workers. It's something, that the more poll workers you have, the more stations that are going to remain open, which allows more people to vote and for our democracy to stay [strong], which is important. So, we really encourage people to sign up through PowerThePolls.org. That's how I signed up to be a poll worker. I've gone through the training. In Pennsylvania, you get paid $250. So, it is not a volunteer shift. You are getting paid, and I think that's important for college students because we have the time now with the half day.
If you want to work the polls, as I said, reach out to your professors, let them know that this is what you're doing. You're not blowing off class to just like, take a nap. People are going to understand that. And it's really important that we have poll workers out. They provide you with PPE. You get paid for your trainings and it's a good way to spend a day. Also you can think about it as preparing you for elections for the next couple of years because you'll have an insider look on how it works. So, next time you go to a polling station, you'll feel confident and you can help your friends, too. I think that's really important, as college students have great networks of whether it's faculty, friends, resources. Share the resources and your knowledge about voting with your friends. You can use that time on Election Day to do that. Make sure your friends are getting out to vote along with yourself.
Also, our average poll worker age is very high compared to the general population. We are currently in a pandemic that is deadlier when the elderly catch it. So, I think it's important as college students, if you're able to and you're healthy, to go out and work the polls.
I always describe it as it's part of your civic duty and you're engaging in democracy, but you're also getting paid for it. You have the amazing right to vote as a citizen and all rights come with responsibilities. This is a great way to fulfill that responsibility while also protecting the older generations who have been doing this great work for years now.
Q: What are the biggest ways you think CEEP as an organization and your positions as fellows are able to help Drexel students this year around voting and the election?
Resanovich: I think the No. 1 reason is that we're students, too. We're going through the same processes of figuring out our own voter registration. I know with COVID-19, a lot of people their plans of change, whether they're not living on campus anymore or still moved in.
That happened with Carlie and I. We both had to figure that out and navigate that. I think we're both just really excited to talk to students about voting, and it's a great resource whether you want to stop by one of our events and get more involved. We're always looking for volunteers. Or, if you just want to DM us on Instagram or send an email, you're able to do that, too. And we can give you personalized help and point you to the right directions.
We've both spent time looking through resources. I can give you the phone number for the county elections in your state or in Philadelphia, and it might take less time for me to find it just because I'm used to looking for it. So, we're a tool for you. We want to help you whichever way we can. Voting is a right. We just want to make sure that you're able to do exercise that right in a way that’s safe, secure and easy for you to do.
McWilliams: This being my first time working with CEEP, I have been learning a lot and I would love to share all the information that I have been learning. … Again, we're students. I think in some ways that does make us more approachable and it's less intimidating. I think that a lot of people are put off by calling their county offices just because it might be unknown territory for them, where you can just submit an anonymous question on our Instagram story or you can just DM us real quick.
I think it's just more accessible for students right now. I think, you know, using our social media wisely like that and just being a voice for students, I really like that we get to do that.
Q: Any other voting advice?
Resanovich: I would say a good tip, and it seems really basic, but Google your question because there's lots of resources. Then, if you are overwhelmed, that's when you can come and get help and we can sift through all the information.
I also want to touch upon early voting in Philadelphia real quick. I think that's an important thing. The permanent election office is in City Hall, which is a short walk from campus and it's a nice way to kind of stretch your legs and get out during quarantine. They also have a couple satellite offices open throughout the city. So, even if you're not living on campus, there's going to be options close to you and they're going to continue to open more so that you can vote before Election Day if you want.
My last piece of advice would just be reach out to your friends. If you have a friend that's voted before and you've never voted before, they can be a great resource to tell you about their personal experience. … Definitely use all the resources you have and don't ever hesitate to reach out to Carlie or I through our Instagram or any other way.
Still have questions? Join the CEEP fellows every Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. for office hours on Zoom at meeting ID 992 6004 1969.