October 8, 2021
Philadelphia Regional Hearing
Dear Members of the House State Government Committee,
Penn Leads the Vote (PLTV) is a student-run, non-partisan program at the University of Pennsylvania that increases voter engagement and voting while advancing Penn’s role of supporting the democratic and civic engagement of the university community. Penn Leads the Vote believes civic engagement is vital to fully realizing the potential of a democratic society. We also believe colleges and universities have both an opportunity and a responsibility to support students’ democratic development and civic participation, including, but not limited to, voting.
To ensure redistricting is done fairly and representivavely, the committee must count college students the same as other residents when drawing new legislative districts. Students are far from a negligible group. The Philadelphia area is home to around 450,000 college students, and many of them spend a majority of their time in a region other than at their “permanent” residence. Additionally, the federal Higher Education Act and Supreme Court of the United States have affirmed the rights of students. As a result, voter turnout across the state has skyrocketed to historic levels and many students completed their census at college rather than their childhood home. The Commonwealth’s students actively complete their civic duties and have a right to equal representation and consideration in the redistricting process.
Penn Leads the Vote also wants to stress the importance of including youth voices and perspectives in the redistricting process. The lack of youth representation on the Pennsylvania Legislative Redistricting Commission and other bodies involved in reapportionment results in the construction of barriers that prevent youth from participating in the process. For example, holding this hearing at 9am on a Wednesday in an area of Philadelphia inaccessible by public transportation and bike means a vast majority of the area’s youth will be unable to attend and provide their input. The Committee and Commission should create opportunities for youth engagement in this process. Possible initiatives may include hosting a hearing on a college campus, meeting with student leaders in a smaller setting, or conducting information sessions for students on how the redistricting process works and how to submit testimony and feedback. Not only would involving youth ensure reapportionment takes into consideration youth perspectives, but it would also expose the next generation of leaders to this critically important process. After all, youth will live with the consequences of this commission’s decisions longer than any other group. Actively involving them now will ensure the long term stability and integrity of our democratic processes. The best learning is doing.
We hope the House State Government Committee and Redistricting Commission will safeguard the inclusion of college students in population counts as well as take proactive steps to involve more youth with the redistricting process.
Harrison Feinman and Eva Gonzalez
Directors of Penn Leads the Vote