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‘The Opportunity Of A Lifetime’: Penn State Student Talks Voting Rights With Kamala Harris

Planes, trains, and automobiles. That’s basically everything Penn State senior DeAndre Malcolm needed to take to have the opportunity of a lifetime to meet with Vice President Kamala Harris in Washington, D.C., on just a 48 hours’ notice.

Malcolm found out he needed to travel to the White House on July 21 for a meeting with Harris about poll working and voting rights. There were no cars available to rent. He missed a bus, too. But finally, he snagged a flight from State College to Washington at the last second.

“A friend of mine actually told me that they were looking for poll workers to attend the White House,” Malcolm said. “I didn’t know at the time that the meeting was actually going to be with Vice President Harris, but I still figured it would be a great opportunity to talk about my experience being a poll worker for this past presidential election.”

Malcolm became a poll worker for this past election to get involved and show his peers how they could help more people vote.

“I wanted to demonstrate to my peers that this is important work. A lot of times, there are a lot of people who volunteer to work at the polls just because they might have misinformation about how the process works and what actually goes into being a poll worker,” Malcolm said. “It’s actually very neutral work. [Political affiliation] is not important when I work as a poll worker because you’re just there to support people in the aspect of giving them the opportunity to vote.”

After submitting his name, Malcolm received an invite to the meeting. He was the only college student in a room chock-full of experienced professionals, some with up to 20 years of experience.

“I felt like, ‘Oh my gosh. I’m the only student at this table?’ And I go to Penn State, so I even feel like I’m representing my school by being here,” Malcolm said.

He found there was a lot to learn from being in that meeting with many others who have been advocating for voters’ rights and working the polls for decades. Malcolm said he personally chose to advocate for young people just like him.

“I really think that being a poll worker is important, especially for people in our generation,” Malcolm said. “There are a lot of people who feel like their voices are not being heard by our government. And then in that same aspect, there are people who think that their vote doesn’t even matter.”

Malcolm said his main talking point throughout the meeting with Harris was emphasizing the needs of young voters across the country.

“The biggest thing I tried to share with Vice President Harris was, ‘A lot of the time we [young people] don’t feel like we’re being heard,'” Malcolm said. “We want to be sure we have individuals like myself who are taking the initial steps to show students that we can be a part of this process.”

Moving forward, Malcolm says younger voters will play an important role in shaping the United States’ civic landscape.

“[Young people] feel that our voices aren’t being heard a lot, and it always comes down to older generations trying to create legislations or dictate what takes place in our lives. I feel like we have a fresh perspective of life as it happens to us,” Malcolm said. “We’re growing up in this world where all of these laws are going to be applying to us as we become more self-reliant, so we might as well speak up about it. We might as well do something about it. Being in these spaces and being able to advocate for ourselves through voting is so important because it literally gives us the voice that we need.”

Although the meeting itself was rather short, Malcolm said he’ll take the lessons learned as he continues advocating for voting rights at Penn State and across the country.

“This was such a mind-blowing opportunity,” he said. “I did not think that someone like myself, with where I’m from and the experiences that I’ve had back home, that I would have the opportunity to sit with the vice president of the United States and have a conversation about my experiences.”

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About the Author

Ryen Gailey

Ryen is a senior early childhood education major from "right outside of Philly" - or in exact words, from 23.0 miles outside of Philly. She loves all things Penn State and has been a huge Penn State gal since before she could walk. Send her pictures of puppies, or hate mail at [email protected]

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