Amidst the ads, mailers and phone calls for the 2016 presidential campaign is the often-overlooked local election. This November, Pennsylvania residents in certain counties will vote for their school-board representatives. In the Main Line area, elections will take place for the Downingtown Area, Upper Darby and West Chester Area school districts.
For those who have yet to register to vote, PA Online Voter Registration is now available. Launched late last month, it allows unregistered voters to easily become eligible to participate in the upcoming election on Nov. 3. The deadline to register is Oct. 5.
“Anything that improves access and simplicity is a step in the right direction so that people don’t have to go to great lengths to register,” says Lynn Yeakel, a longtime Main Line resident and director of the Drexel University College of Medicine’s Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership.
Yeakel is trying to increase voter participation across the country through her program, Vision 2020. It’s a national campaign for women’s equality, not only working toward increasing female voters and the number of women in positions of power in business and government, but also addressing gender gaps in pay and retirement income. In addition, the Vision 2020 team wants to see an increase in all voter participation, which is dismal in America. According to a CNN report, only 57.5 percent of all eligible voters participated in the 2012 election, a decrease from both 2004 and 2008. Roughly 93 million eligible Americans didn’t vote.
Voting is a constitutional right that was first established in 1776 for a select group, namely property owners. Over the course of history, those without rights fought for the opportunity to vote, with women gaining the right in 1920. Other minority groups continued to fight for their rights for decades. Though no citizen is legally obligated to vote, to register to vote, or to partake in official elections in any capacity, voting is a way to effect change through those elected to represent their communities.
Many citizens don’t pay much attention to school-board or municipal elections; however, those elected can have a direct, if sometimes subtle, impact on community life. School boards help determine a district’s vision, curriculum and budget, among other things.
“The school board is tremendously important for our children and grandchildren. The policies that are made by the school board affect their futures,” Yeakel says. “We’re all paying property taxes to support our schools, whether we have kids there or not.”
Yeakel’s personal experience in politics gives her a different insight than most voters. She ran for Congress and later for governor in the 1990s. Coming from a political family—her father was a congressman from their home state of Virginia for over 20 years—Yeakel sees voting as a civic duty.
“The idea of not voting wouldn’t have been tolerated. Everyone was responsible as a citizen,” Yeakel says.
She hopes to achieve more widespread voting by 2020.
“Voting is just a step, but a very key step for every citizen to have a voice,” Yeakel says. “So many people don’t vote, register, or know the issues or candidates.”
Want to register? See below for our guide on eligibility and how to register, plus other information about this year’s election.
What constitutes voter eligibility?
- Voters must be age 18 on Election Day. Those not turning 18 until Nov. 2 can still register now.
- Voters must have U.S. citizenship.
- Voters must be residents of their election districts for no less than 30 days prior to the election.
- Voters must have a valid ID in the form of a Pennsylvania driver’s license or a PennDOT ID card, or a social security number.
How to register:
- Complete an application on the PA Online Voter Registration website.
- Mail or drop off a completed form to your county’s voter registration office. Forms are available online.
- Active-duty military persons, veterans, and those hospitalized or bedridden may register at any time.
Other things to know:
- Registering does not mean you will automatically receive jury duty. Jurors are selected from a list of registered voters, taxpayers, and anyone who has a valid driver’s license.
- During registration, citizens may volunteer to work the polls on Election Day or be a bilingual interpreter.
- The last day to register to vote is Oct. 5.
- The last day to register for a civilian absentee ballot is Oct. 27.