Gov't Relations

PA Education Votes 2020

By Tyler Smith, MPHSeptember 16, 2020

Photo: Shutterstock

Participating in the democratic process in a healthy way.

DISCLAIMER: PA Education Votes 2020 is a non-partisan initiative intended to encourage PA faculty, staff, and student participation in the electoral process. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, PAEA does not endorse or oppose any candidate for elected office. Nor do any of the recommendations contained in this piece constitute legal advice.

As Election Day 2020 approaches, PAEA encourages all faculty and students to exercise their right to make their voices heard through healthy voting.

Each day, lawmakers at the federal, state, and local levels make consequential decisions about critical health and education issues. By exercising your right to vote, you can ensure that the interests of the PA profession and PA education are top-of-mind for policymakers as they develop laws that impact clinicians, educators, and, ultimately, patients.

In recognition of the challenges posed by COVID-19, PAEA has compiled the following resources to equip all faculty and students to participate in the electoral process safely. Use the information below to learn more about your state’s voter registration process, the process for requesting a mail-in or absentee ballot, and key deadlines. Additionally, members are invited to use PAEA’s Grassroots Action Network to register to vote.

Program Highlights

Multiple institutions housing PA programs have already joined the effort to encourage their students and faculty to participate in the electoral process.

The Morehouse School of Medicine is instituting increased flexibility for both in-person and mail-in voting and is directly providing resources for faculty interested in early voting or requesting an absentee ballot.

Other universities are prioritizing innovative ways to promote voter registration. For example, the University of Colorado – Anschutz Medical Campus is using the VotER platform to provide lanyards and cards with QR codes that can be scanned to direct interested individuals to a non-partisan website with instructions on how to register to vote.

Tips for Healthy Voting

No matter how you vote, make sure you keep your health at the forefront of your plans in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Absentee/Mail-In Voting
If your state is providing mail-in ballots to all registered voters, make sure your registration is up to date. For those who need to request one:

  • Check to see if your state requires a specific excuse for mail-in voting and whether COVID-19 is a valid one.
  • Request an absentee ballot as soon as possible.
  • Verify how to return your ballot: mail, drop box, and in-person options may be available.
  • Return the ballot as soon as possible. Track your ballot online, if available.

Early Voting
If allowed in your state, early voting is usually less crowded than on Election Day.

  • See if and when your state allows early voting.
  • Check how long you have to vote early: it can be as many as 45 days or as few as a couple of weeks, and some states are subdividing when slots are open for crowd control purposes. 
  • Verify whether you need to request access to early voting.

Election Day Voting
If you have to vote on Election Day, November 3, check local and CDC guidance on gatherings. Safety recommendations include:

  • Go to the polls at an off-peak time.
  • Plan to stand in line, potentially outdoors.
  • Wear a mask.
  • Bring your own pen/pencil or stylus to complete your ballot.
  • Wash or sanitize your hands immediately after leaving the polling place.

Visit HealthyVoting.org, a resource developed by public health and civic engagement experts, for information specific to each state.

Getting Out the Vote at Your Program

Next Tuesday – September 22 – is National Voter Registration Day. We recommend that you check your institution’s policies and state’s laws on Election Day participation to see what you can do to promote voting among faculty, staff, and students. Some important federal laws to keep in mind are:

  • Nonprofit organizations must not endorse or promote any candidate for office. 26 U.S.C. § 501(c)(3) General get-out-the-vote campaigns and education on important issues (but not which candidates support them) are allowed.
  • No one may offer incentives for participating in an election when a federal candidate is on the ballot (nothing with monetary value, no exclusive events) as it is seen as coercion. 52 U.S.C. § 10307(c) Rides to the polls are generally permitted.

The American Council on Education has put together a comprehensive legal brief advising on likely permissible and impermissible activities on college campuses.

Here are some resources that can help you with your efforts:

  • Vote.org – A leading resource for all things voting, from registration to absentee ballot requests
  • Vote411.org – Includes similar resources to Vote.org, plus information on what’s on your ballot and multilingual reporting lines
  • HealthyVoting.org – Instructions and tips from public health and civic engagement organizations for voting safely during the pandemic
  • StudentVoting.org – Resources to help institutions register students to vote
  • CampusVoteProject.org – Resources to understand student voting rights, including a state-by-state guide that includes residency laws

PAEA’s Committment

PAEA is joining this commitment to democracy as well. We have designated Election Day as an administrative holiday so that staff have the time they need to vote safely outside the early morning and evening peak hours. Responses to emails will be delayed as with any other holiday. Additionally, ExamDriver will be closed to proctored exam administrations in light of limited customer support.

“Our democracy is important and participating safely is instrumental to our vision of Health for All, said PAEA CEO Mary Jo Bondy, DHEd, MHS, PA-C. “This is true for staff, just as it is for members when we bring them to Capitol Hill.”

Emily Yunker, MPA, PMP, PAEA’s director of assessment and security officer, contributed to this article.

Tyler Smith, MPH

Tyler is the director of government relations at PAEA. He is responsible for PAEA’s grassroots outreach initiatives and advancing the association’s legislative and regulatory priorities.