Kilin Tang ’25 Makes Voting More Accessible at Swarthmore and Across Pennsylvania
When Kilin Tang ’25 was a “really rebellious” sixth grader, his mother decided to enroll him in debate camp, so he could “actually learn to argue back properly.”
It was a good call for Tang, who helped push for the Pennsylvania Department of State’s recently added nonbinary option on voter registration forms. Through debate, Tang learned about a range of public policy issues and found a keen interest in voting rights.
“If you can’t vote, you can’t have a voice in a lot of critical processes that ultimately affect every single citizen,” says Tang, of Califon, N.J., whose studies focus on political science, philosophy, and economics.
As an Inclusive Excellence Fellow at Swarthmore, Tang has pursued his longstanding interest in voting advocacy. After learning of a trans student who was turned away at the polls because their deadname (i.e, the one they used prior to transitioning) on their OneCard did not match the name with which they were registered to vote, Tang decided to focus his Inclusive Excellence project on expanding voting access to transgender and nonbinary students at Swarthmore. His proposal focused on giving students an optional second OneCard, reading their legal name, to show when they turned up to the voting polls.
After conducting surveys of 80-plus students across various groups, including members of Trans @ Swat, Tang worked with the OneCard office to make these alternate IDs free of charge to students who need it.
“Kilin diligently explored information from community constituents and stakeholders and made sure to follow up every referral with zeal and intention, locally, and at the state level,” says Associate Dean Michelle Ray, co-director of the Inclusive Excellence Fellows Initiative. “Kilin was also able to skillfully use the information and network he gained in this process to impressively impact voting inclusion at the state level.”
While working on his project, Tang connected with the Pennsylvania Department of State about issues of voting accessibility for nonbinary students. He learned that the initiative to add a nonbinary option on voter registration forms had been stalling for a few years.
“They didn’t really have the push yet to implement it and were really hoping to do so within the next two years,” says Tang. But just six months after Tang’s lobbying efforts, the legislation was passed, and the Department of State specifically cited activism from Swarthmore College.
“I think I was able to just give them that final push to get it done,” Tang says. “It’s really important that people shouldn’t have to choose a gender that they don’t necessarily identify with for something as important and vital for our democracy as voting — or not even voting, but to register to vote.”
Thanks to Tang’s efforts, trans and nonbinary community members at Swarthmore, and the rest of Pennsylvania, now face fewer barriers to voting.
“Kilin has established a legacy that will enhance the inclusive experience of many people for years to come,” says Ray. “We are so very proud of Kilin and look forward to all that he will accomplish as he continues as a change agent impacting [diversity, equity, and inclusion] through his many accomplishments that will undoubtedly shape his future.”
"It's my sincere hope that Swatties who may have a different name that they identify with than their deadname will now be able to vote with a second OneCard without any fear of harassment or questioning about their identity,” says Tang, adding that 25% of transgender and nonbinary Americans were turned away from voting for that reason in 2020.
“No one should fear or experience discomfort about registering to vote or showing up to the polls to vote if they have the legal right to do so,” he says.