ELECTION TIME IS COMING: Russell Abdo, 20, is the events chair and treasurer of Penn Leads the Vote, a non-partisan, student-led campus voter mobilization group sponsored by the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program. He is a Philadelphia native, and grew up in the city’s Fairmount section.
PROJECT FRESHMEN: Penn Leads the Vote primarily targets undergraduate students living on campus, while also reaching out to the larger University community. “One of the No. 1 indicators of whether you’re going to vote again in the future is if you vote the very first time you’re allowed, so we’re targeting freshmen specifically,” Abdo says.
VOTING 101: Voter registration is the organization’s main focus; once the registration deadline ends, the group shifts to voter education—how to vote, when to vote, and where to vote. “You’d be surprised how many people don’t realize that (a) you have to be registered to vote on Election Day, and (b) when Election Day rolls around, they have no idea it’s actually there,” Abdo says.
SOME POLITICS IS LOCAL: Abdo says the biggest challenge Penn Leads the Vote faces is the large number of freshmen who wish to stay registered in their home cities in order to have a say in local politics. “And we totally respect that,” he says. “But at the same time, if you’re a freshman coming to Philly, you’re going to be here for the next four years, you’re going to inevitably be affected by the politics that are happening around you, so we would hope that you vote here.”
GET OUT THE VOTE: Abdo says not all members of Penn Leads the Vote are political junkies. “A lot of people on the board in particular are more about the presence that students are going to have on Election Day and the presence that we can have as a whole, not so much about the issues,” he says.
EASY AS 1-2-3: During the 2008 presidential election, Penn Leads the Vote helped the University achieve an 89.6 percent turnout rate among on-campus registered undergraduate voters. To achieve an even higher rate this year, Abdo says they are working to make on-campus voting as accessible as possible, “and also just reinforce how easy it is, and how this is your civic duty, and how a lot of people don’t have the privilege to do it.”
ELECTION DAY: On Tuesday, Nov. 6, Penn Leads the Vote will hold an Election Day Rally on Locust Walk, accompanied by the Penn Band and the Penn Cheerleaders. Penn President Amy Gutmann will join them, and they will march her to her polling place. “I actually was at [Gutmann’s] polling location freshman year and I got to sign her in to vote,” Abdo says. “It was a celebrity moment.”
Originally published on October 11, 2012