Voters with special considerations
When you are registering voters in the field, you will encounter voters with a wide variety of backgrounds, abilities, and needs. The following sections will help prepare you to assist a diverse range of voters.
Voters with disabilities
Any voter with a disability, including those who live in assisted living facilities, may register and vote. Voters with disabilities experience many obstacles to voting, including difficulties in registering. Your organization can help voters with disabilities by being mindful of the diverse needs of people with disabilities.
Things to consider before your voter registration drive:
- Is your voter registration location wheelchair or mobility device accessible?
- Do you have Wi-Fi access or a hotspot to help voters with visual disabilities use the online voter registration system?
- Do you have absentee ballot applications available for those who are eligible and wish to apply? If not, do you have instructions available for the voter to take with them?
Other things to consider:
- Use "people-first" language. For example, "people with disabilities", not "disabled people".
- Don't assume that people with disabilities need help. Ask first, and then let them tell you what assistance they need.
- If a voter has an aide or a sign-language interpreter, speak directly to the voter, not the aide or interpreter.
- If you are working with a voter who is blind, make sure you introduce yourself by name.
- Speak to people at eye level. If they use a wheelchair, sit or kneel if you can.
- When assisting a voter who is deaf, speak clearly in a normal tone. (Don't shout.) Look directly at them when you're talking to them.
Voters who have a criminal record
There is a very limited group of people who may not register and vote in Pennsylvania due to a criminal conviction.
The ONLY people who are NOT eligible to register and vote are:
- People who are currently confined in a penal institution for conviction of a felony and will not get released until after the next election.
- People who are in a halfway house or other alternative correctional facility on pre-release status for conviction of a felony and who will not get released until after the next election.
- People who were convicted of violating any provision of the Pennsylvania Election Code within the last four years.
Those who are incarcerated but eligible to register may use their most recent address as their residence; or they can use the address where they will live upon release. The correctional facility may be used as a mailing address, and they can apply to receive an absentee ballot there.
More information is available at https://www.votespa.com/Register-to-Vote/Pages/Convicted-Felon,-Misdemeanant-or-Pretrial-Detainee.aspx.
Voters who are limited English proficient
You may encounter people with limited English proficiency when you are running your drive. This means they speak another language and have difficulty speaking and/or understanding English. Before your drive, do some research about the languages spoken where you will be holding the drive, and plan accordingly.
- It is a good idea to recruit registration drive workers who are multilingual and can help voters in another language.
- Pennsylvania's online voter registration application is available on the website in English and Spanish. Click on the button for "español" to see the application in Spanish. www.votespa.com/register.
- The paper voter registration application is available in multiple languages. Applications in Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese are available at: https://www.votespa.com/Resources/Pages/Resource-Center.aspx.
- You can refer people to the Pennsylvania Department of State for help answering questions in another language. The Department will use an interpreter to communicate with the voter at no cost.
High school students
For high school students, and teenagers in general, the biggest obstacle is making sure that they understand their eligibility to vote.
- Keep in mind that they do not have to be 18 to register. They must be 18 years old on or before the date of the next election.
- This means that special elections will affect the registration cut-off date. Check with the county election office to confirm whether there are upcoming special elections.
If you plan to hold a drive at a high school, here are some other things to keep in mind:
- You may want to include pledge cards for students who are not eligible to register, so that they can make a commitment to register in the future.
- Research has shown it is most meaningful when a peer asks another young person to register to vote. Consider engaging with student volunteers.
- In addition to hosting a table event, it is effective to register students to vote in a classroom setting.
- Remind students to bring the materials they need, like their driver's license or social security number.
- Make sure to explain each section of the registration form to the students, because it may contain terms they are not familiar with.
- Explain how selecting a party will affect their ability to vote in primary elections.
High school students as young as 17 are eligible under state law to serve as poll workers. Talk to the county election administrators where you are holding your drive about whether they use student poll workers. If so, you could add a poll worker recruitment component to your voter registration drive.
Lastly, the Pennsylvania Departments of State and Education recognize high schools that register at least 65% of eligible students to vote with the Governor's Civic Engagement Award. To find out more about the award, go to https://www.dos.pa.gov/VotingElections/Pages/Governor's-Civic-Engagement-Award.aspx.
There are many common errors that occur when registering college students to vote. It is vital that drive workers understand the options available to college students, and that they explain the consequences of the students' decision to register to vote in Pennsylvania.
First, college students at residential campuses generally have two options when they register to vote:
- College students may register and vote where they live while attending college in Pennsylvania. They can use an on-campus or off-campus address in that community.
- They may choose to register and vote at their prior home address (or remain registered and vote at their prior home address). Most commonly, this would be their parents' address.
Be sure to submit the application to the appropriate county office. For example, if someone attends Penn State University, and lists their residence in Berks County, the application must be sent to Berks County, not Centre County.
In addition, registration drive volunteers should be prepared to explain the following information:
- Voters cannot be registered in more than one place in Pennsylvania. If a student was previously registered in another county in Pennsylvania, that registration will be cancelled when they register in a different county.
- Likewise, students may only vote in one place. Explain that students from out of state who decide to register in Pennsylvania are legally prohibited from also voting in their home state.
- Students must vote where they register. For example, if a student attends school in Centre County, but lists their residence in Berks County on the application, they may only vote in Berks County on election day. In that case, let them know about the process for requesting an absentee ballot.