PA Voting Barriers for Out-of-State Villanovans

Lindsay Gallagher, Staff Writer

Villanova students whose parents live out of state are experiencing challenges to voting in Pennsylvania. 

“I’ve tried three times to vote and have been prevented from doing so for arbitrary reasons,” senior Bella Wu said. 

The Villanovan spoke to students about their experiences registering for and voting in Pennsylvania elections and found that they are having difficulty registering correctly and having their votes accepted.

 The Pennsylvania Department of State provides a webpage dedicated to voting as a college student. It specifies that “you can register and vote where you live while attending college in PA or at your prior home address,” but you can only be registered in one place at a time. When registering to vote, one must list their address exactly the way that the PA state government has it listed in its records, or the ballot will be voided. On a college campus or in an apartment complex, this is difficult because one’s mailing address is not always the same as their physical address.The government does not publicize which address is the “correct” address to use to vote. The only way to find out is through trial and error, which can take time and many iterations of communication between the individual and the county elections office.

Villanova’s #LetsVoteNova website, a joint effort between SGA, the Office of Government Relations and the Office of Student Involvement, explains that an on-campus resident must use “800 Lancaster Ave and their residence hall name in the apartment line” as their physical address on the PA voter application regardless of where they receive mail. This is despite the fact that the West Campus and South Campus buildings are not located on Lancaster Ave. 

Senior Victoria Hamilton reported that her voter registration was rejected because she incorrectly labeled her home as an “apartment” instead of a “college residence hall.” In her second attempt at registering, she used dark blue ink instead of black ink, and her application was rejected again.Villanova’s campus covers four voting precincts. Because most students change residence halls annually, they have to change their registration every year and start the registration process over. 

“I haven’t heard a single explanation as to why Villanova is so gerrymandered,” Hamilton said. “If anything, I think it turns people off from voting to have to re-register over and over.”

Student Jake Dorais agreed.

“There’s very little direct communication from the state and local government about mail-in versus in-person voting status and how you need to reapply to vote every time you switch residence halls,” he said. 

In Dorais’s home state of California, since the pandemic, “registered voters automatically receive mail-in ballots that have all of the relevant information contained inside,” which he finds convenient. California also sends multiple reminder emails if it has not received one’s ballot yet.

Pennsylvania allows voting in-person or by mail, but in order to get a mail-in ballot (which is often the most convenient option for college students that have busy schedules or lack personal vehicles), one must either submit a Pennsylvania state driver’s license number (which out-of-state students do not have) or mail several letters back and forth between the county elections office to prove one’s identity. It is after this that they send a mail-in ballot, which may or may not be accepted depending on how it’s filled out and whether the county elections office receives it in time.  

The pandemic has caused unprecedented backlogs in the US mail system, which further extends the process. Essentially, an out-of-state student needs to “start” registering to vote in Pennsylvania several weeks or months before the actual registration deadline in order to ensure that they can vote. Hamilton ordered her mail-in ballot a month before the 2020 presidential election and still spent four hours at the Delaware County elections office in early November trying to vote. 

“I had to cancel my mail-in ballot that never showed, then wait for them to process the paperwork,” she said. Thirty minutes later, the poll worker told me I couldn’t use my California driver’s license and instead to use my Wildcard, so I had to start the paperwork over and wait for it to process again. After it went through, I had to re-register to vote as an in-person voter, wait for them to process that application, and only then did they give me a ballot to fill out.” 

Wu’s vote was not counted in the same election because she also never received the mail-in ballot she requested in October. On Election Day, her only option was to vote with a provisional ballot in person. She later found out her provisional ballot was nullified and her vote did not count because her “address was incorrectly formatted, despite following the exact directions of the polling place workers and the instructions on the ballot.” 

“Being constantly suppressed and deterred from voting, despite the hours of paperwork, going over directions, checking deadlines, mailing in documents and reading emails that the voting process has cost me, is beyond frustrating and demoralizing,” Wu said. 

Exercising the right to vote should be an enjoyable experience. Pennsylvania has a long way to go in enabling college students to vote more easily.