How to register and vote in the presidential election this November

Trebor Maitin

Coronavirus. The Supreme Court. Racial justice. Economic relief. Healthcare. Climate change. All of these things and more are on the ballot this coming November 3rd. A government of the people and by the people cannot function for the people without voting. This is the mission of Lafayette Votes!, a new division of the Landis Center. According to its Instagram page, Lafayette Votes! is a “campus-wide initiative to get you registered and educated about voting.”

“Both major [presidential] candidates are competitive in Pennsylvania, and the 20 electoral college votes make PA a big prize in the race,” Professor Andrew Clarke, a faculty member on the Lafayette Votes! committee, wrote in an email. “Voting anywhere in PA matters.”

October 19th is the last day to register to vote in Pennsylvania. This means that an application must be received, processed, and accepted by that date, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State. The only exceptions are for active duty or bedridden military personnel.

There are three ways for a student to register: online, in person, or by mail, all three of which require either a Pennsylvania driver’s license, PennDOT ID card, or a social security number. Out-of-state students living on campus who wish to vote can vote in either Pennsylvania or their home state via an absentee ballot, but not both.

These students need to have resided in Pennsylvania for at least thirty days. Both the online and paper registration forms can be found at the Pennsylvania voter registration website. Upon completion and approval, a Certificate of Voter Registration should be sent by mail and not discarded. Non-citizens and those under the age of 18 on election day cannot vote in United States elections, according to usa.gov

Mail-in ballots have become increasingly popular due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For 2020, Pennsylvania has allowed for no-excuse mail-in voting. Mail-in ballot applications can be completed in one of two ways: on paper or online.

A paper application can be either mailed in or delivered by hand to the county election office by October 27th. Online applications, also due by October 27th, can be found at the Pennsylvania ballot request website, and, although an option to apply for a mail-in ballot or an absentee ballot is not immediately apparent, answering the questions provided by the website will direct the user to the correct application. A valid Pennsylvania driver’s license, PennDOT ID card, or a social security number is required for both the paper application and the online form. 

When the mail-in ballot does arrive, it must be filled out correctly. Follow all instructions listed on the ballot. When returning a mail-in ballot it must first be placed in the envelope marked “Official Election Ballot” and then placed in the return envelope. If this is not done, the ballot will be discarded. Postage stamps are not necessary for return envelopes as the Commonwealth pays for it. 

If returning the mail-in ballot by hand, it must be received by the county election office by 8:00pm on November 3rd. If returning the mail-in ballot by mail, it must be postmarked by 8:00pm on Election Day and received by the county election office by 5:00pm on November 6th. To ensure the ballot is counted, it should be sent in as early as possible. If voting in person, arrive early and wear a mask. Those in line prior to 8:00pm in Pennsylvania cannot be turned away. If such an attempt is made, stay in line.

To ensure that students keep up to date with this information, Lafayette Votes! is serving not just as a megaphone for voter mobilization, but as a central resource for all things voting related.

“With the current pandemic, we have shifted our goals towards education rather than direct service,” said Emily Cotter, a student on the committee.

Chelsea Cefalu, the assistant director of the Landis Center and the “coordinator” of Lafayette Votes!, elaborated on what the committee was doing to engage students both on-campus and off-campus.

“We have a series of approximately 15 events scheduled from the beginning of September through Election Day on November 3rd,” Cefalu said. “We’ve already held Voting 101, a discussion about voter mobilization tactics, a pre-debate talk on the state of the race, a debate watch party, a student panel about immigration and the 2020 election and a social media push for National Voter Registration Day. There are still a lot of events scheduled on the calendar and we are still planning new events.”

According to the Lafayette Votes! webpage, only 44.5 percent of Lafayette students voted in the last presidential election, and in order to increase voter turnout by students, the committee has had to tailor its message for Lafayette students. 

“Students are more receptive to open emails and attend events when the information is given to them by someone they know, rather than having it be just another section in the Lafayette Today email,” Cotter noted.

“The situation will not be changed by doing nothing while others make major political decisions for you,” she continued. “Nobody will vote for you or your needs except for you.”