An exhortation to vote at Graffiti Pier in Philadelphia. (Mark Henninger/Imagic Digital)

As the clock ticks closer to the November election, many college students and young eligible voters in Philadelphia aren’t registered to cast a ballot. And even when they are, many don’t come out to vote. 

It’s a nationwide phenomenon that several groups are working to change, spreading the word about the importance of voting on campuses, neighborhoods, and online spaces to anyone who’ll listen. And there are plenty of young Philadelphians who champion the cause.

“I feel like a lot of college students don’t understand the importance of voting and that it applies to them,” Kasey Thorpe, a third-year student at Temple University, told Billy Penn.

Some don’t vote due to perceived ineffectiveness or feeling uninformed, per a 2022 study out of Tufts University. There’s also a perception that the issues at stake aren’t necessarily relevant, Thorpe said.

“We need to tell people what is going to matter,” she said. “People need to know that you might not be affected by this now — but you will be. So then it is up to them whether or not they want to be a part of that change.”

Brooklyn Jones is the representative for Pennsylvania on the Student Advisory Board of the Campus Vote Project, a national org actively working to normalize student voting. By 2028, Jones noted, millennials and Gen Z will make up the majority of the electorate, and ultimately have the largest voice in the government — IF they register and go to the polls. 

“There’s a lot of change going on right now within the world, and a lot of these new changes are definitely going to affect our younger demographic within the long run,” said Jones, a junior at Penn State. “We still have years and years of life to live, and the people that are making these laws are eventually going to get out of office at one point in time. So when you’re voting, your vote impacts you, and your kids, and their kids to come.”

The team at Campus Vote Project makes state-specific student voter guides along with answering common questions that are targeted to college students. The goal is to encourage youth voters by explaining to them that their opinions and concerns matter. 

“Every third Wednesday of the month, we have student voting network calls,” Jones said. “These calls touch on … different voting topics, how to get out and vote, and why your voice matters.”

Having the chance to learn about different voting topics encourages students to not only register but to go to the polls, she said. Many young people say they feel discouraged to vote due to politicians running on a platform that ends up not working out. 

The problem is compounded in “off” years when there’s no presidential or federal-level election. Emma Hambleton, a second year student at Temple University, said she’s worried about the lack of youth voter turnout because she cares about the future of the city where she lives. 

“I think that it’s important for young people to take advantage of voting and getting involved,” Hambleton said, “because that’s the only way to make a change — and Philadelphia needs change.”

Over the past couple of years, Philly saw an increase in young voter engagement, according to data from the City Commissioners’ Office. Between the 2021 general election and the 2023 primary, there were nearly 9,000 new registered voters between the ages of 18 and 24, a 9% jump. 

Youth voter turnout in the 2023 primary was 4 percentage points higher than the 2022 primary. Still, only about 12% of voters in the 18-24 age group cast a ballot this past May — less than half the overall turnout rate of 27%. That means more than 92,000 young people who were registered did not go to the polls.

In 2022, the Pa. Department of State collaborated with the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge to create the Pennsylvania Campus Voting Challenge. It focused on increasing student voter participation and engagement by providing resources and hosting a competition to see which school could register the most students.

The Pa. Campus Voting Challenge is not active this year, but will be re-started next year in advance of the 2024 presidential election. While smaller-scale elections may not garner as much attention as national or statewide elections, they directly impact immediate communities and daily lives, said Jones, of the Campus Vote Project.

“Young people should vote because even though they feel like their voice doesn’t matter, their voice has a large impact especially when it comes to these smaller races,” Jones said.

Though some efforts are focused on college students, youth voting enthusiasts know that doesn’t reach everyone. PA Youth Vote is a nonpartisan initiative that focuses on getting all young people involved in the electoral process.

“It’s important to have an organization that isn’t just centered around college students,” said Thorpe, the Temple junior. “Many people don’t vote because they don’t have the opportunity to be educated, and PA Youth Vote acknowledges those individuals.”

The last day to register to vote in the Nov. 7 election is Oct. 23. You have to be 18 years old by the date of the election, a resident of Philadelphia for at least 30 days, and a citizen of the United States for at least one month in advance of the election.