Register and Vote!

The 26th amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives every U.S. citizen age 18 and older the right to vote. Voting is the fundamental right that people living in a democracy possess to voice their opinion on issues that affect them and on elected officials who have the power to influence those issues, or not.

It may seem like a small action to those who have voted in many elections for many years, but voting can lead to big changes in how we experience life and who makes those decisions in our neighborhoods, communities, municipalities, counties, states and at the federal level. Your vote — collectively with all voters’ — will impact policy debates on the environment, education, housing, transportation, national defense and a myriad of other issues. There is literally no part of our lives not touched by our representative government. In the United States, we maintain the right to influence policy decisions and the development of laws, the rules and regulations that shape our society, which impact us personally.   

With the Nov. 3 general election right around the corner, the Academy of Natural Sciences urges every eligible voter to research the platform of each candidate, then make your voice heard. Register to vote by the deadline required by your state, and then vote on time.

This year the Covid-19 pandemic has created unique challenges to in-person voting, including the need to stand 6 feet apart from other people. Pennsylvanians were fortunate the legislature acted in time for the June 2 primary election when a new state law took effect that allows residents to vote by mail for the first time without stating a reason. This method is in addition to the absentee ballots, which are still available for those who apply in time and meet certain criteria.

If you want to vote by mail instead of in person at a polling booth on Nov. 3, make sure to apply TODAY for an absentee ballot or mail-in ballot, if your state permits this. Then mail it or drop it off at the appropriate location well in advance of the deadline to make sure it reaches its destination. You want your vote to count.

For the mail-in and absentee ballots for the November election, each applicant will receive a postage-paid envelope in which to mail their completed ballot back.

Nearly 1.5 million Pennsylvanians cast a mail-in or absentee ballot in the June 2 Pennsylvania primary, 17 times the number that voted absentee in the 2016 primary, according to Brookings Institute. More are expected to opt for mail-in voting in the general election.

New Jersey allows mail-in and absentee ballots. Delaware allows only absentee ballots, but as of this writing, the legislature is considering a bill that would allow mail-in ballots too.

Unfortunately, mailing a ballot also presents potential challenges: Will it arrive in time? Will ongoing issues with the postal service affect delivery? Was the ballot filled out completely, including the signature on the envelope? Will poll workers be able to check and count all the mailed-in ballots by the required deadline?

Some Philadelphia-area counties are setting up additional election offices where voters can pick up a ballot, fill it out and hand it in on the spot in advance of Nov. 3. Philadelphia election officials plan to open at least 800 polling places across the city, set up 15 neighborhood elections offices for in-person voting using mail ballots, install at least 15 mail ballot drop boxes across the city, give poll workers coronavirus hazard pay, and buy equipment to dramatically increase the processing of mail ballots, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

With heads spinning at each new good and bad development gleaned from the news, and with local and state election officials continuing to fine-tune the most democratic of democratic processes down to the wire, we say: Vote early, vote safely, vote!

How to get information for voting in your state

Each state and county maintain detailed online information about how to register to vote, how to apply for mail-in and absentee ballots, where to vote, where to mail or drop off ballots, and all the crucial deadlines involved. All these factors differ from state to state and some dates may even change in the coming weeks as legislatures wrestle with voting procedures during the pandemic.

So do your homework! You can also ask for information by calling the elections office in your county or maybe even visiting them.

For details on how to vote in Pennsylvania, visit the Pennsylvania Voting Guide.

For details on how to vote in New Jersey, visit New Jersey Division of Elections.

For details on how to vote in Delaware, visit Delaware Department of Elections.

Mark your calendar: Election Day across the U.S. is Tuesday, November 3, 2020

By Carolyn Belardo, Public Relations Director

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