College Students Could Create Surge In Absentee Voting

Apr 18, 2016

One expert said college students could create a surge in absentee ballots for this year's Pennsylvania primary.
Credit Nadya Peek / Flickr

The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot for the April 26 primary is Tuesday, and Chris Borick, a political scientist at Muhlenberg College, said he expects more absentee voters than in previous years.

“That’s not surprising given that the primary season this year is actually relevant on both the Democratic and Republican sides,” said Borick. “There’s actual competition this year.”

In the 2012 Pennsylvania presidential primary, there were 280,000 absentee ballots cast, according to the state Bureau of Elections. 

According to Borick, another reason for the expected increase might well be college students. He said the data available currently the data available currently doesn’t “allow us to drill down” to determine the demographics of the absentee voters. But, he said, “What you might expect in an election year like this, where on the Democratic side (there’s) lots of excitement surrounding Bernie Sanders, that you will see higher than normal levels of absentee ballots being cast by young voters who might be out of state at colleges.”

Borick, the director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, said he’s noticed this in data from states that have already held their primaries.

Mark Wolosik, manager of Allegheny County’s Elections Division, said as of Friday there was an increase in the requests for absentee ballots compared to the last presidential election in 2012.

“It was higher than we saw four years ago," Wolosik said. "I don’t think we’re going to approach the levels that we saw at the 2008 primary, when we had about 15,000 voters applying for absentee ballots.”  

In the 2008 Pennsylvania primary, Hillary Clinton topped Barack Obama in a hotly contested race.

Wolosik said so far there have been about 10,000 applications for absentee ballots from Allegheny County residents, “but the number is higher than we see in your typical presidential primary.”

Registered voters can apply for an absentee ballot in person at the County Office Building in downtown Pittsburgh or download an application at the Pennsylvania Department of State’s website, VotesPA.com.  Either way the application must be returned to the elections division no later than 5 p.m. Tuesday.