Students vote on campus in historic election


Junior politics and philosophy major Kait Pendrak hands out voting stickers to students on campus. Katie Krater | Staff Photographer

By The Pitt News staff

In Posvar’s, Soldiers and Sailors’ and the William Pitt Union’s halls, thousands of Pitt students waited in snaking lines, many leaving wearing their first “I Voted” stickers.

For many students, this presidential election was the first cycle they could vote in, finally across the threshold and able to cast their ballots. Most students voted without any hitches except for long lines. Volunteers handed out stickers, coffee, pizza and sandwiches as repayment for their time.

In front of Soldiers and Sailors, students could even get free food, including hot dogs, from food trucks brought in by NextGen Climate, a political organization focusing on the prevention of climate change.

On Pitt’s campus, more than 4,400 students voted at the three stations heavily visited by student voters.

According to James Love, the judge of elections at Posvar Hall, the station saw 962 voters from 7 a.m. Tuesday morning to 8 p.m. that night.

The polling station at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall saw 1,642 voters while polls were open, according to Blithe Runsdorf, the station’s judge of elections. Runsdorf, who has been a judge of elections for five cycles, said the voter turnout at Soldiers and Sailors was “very high.”

“I think [voting is] a very important thing. Not enough people register, and not enough people vote,” Runsdorf said. “[Voting is] the only way to have a say in what our government does.”

A mishap at Runsdorf’s station, though, caused an Allegheny County judge to issue a court order late Tuesday afternoon clarifying the roles of poll watchers and the ways that students can prove they are registered to vote.

Earlier on Tuesday, a Democratic poll watcher admitted to helping students who didn’t appear on Runsdorf’s official rolls look up whether or not they were registered online. But while he did so, the poll watcher interacted with Runsdorf, which is not allowed. Judge Jill Rangos ordered that poll watchers could not interact with a judge of elections about a person’s registration but that students could show a judge that they were registered on the State Department’s website by using their laptops or phones.

Across the street, Alethea Sims –– who has been a poll worker since 2007 and a judge of elections since 2009 –– was the judge of elections at the Union. Sims, 60, said the polling station saw 1,880 voters on Tuesday but voter turnout dropped from the nearly 2,200 people who voted at that station in 2008, two election cycles ago.

“Everything went as smooth as can be expected,” Sims said.

Although all three judges of elections in Oakland said the voting this year went smoothly, Pitt medical student Amol Koldhekar ran into some difficulties when he walked into his polling station in Bloomfield on Tuesday morning.

Koldhekar got to his polling center at the Shepherd Wellness Community Center before 7 a.m. to ensure he had plenty of time to vote. Koldhekar had voted in his precinct before, so he shouldn’t have needed to bring photo ID with him.

When he arrived at the polling place, however, one of the workers said he needed to show his ID before he cast his ballot. Koldhekar presented his Pitt ID, which the worker claimed was insufficient since it wouldn’t be considered acceptable ID to get Koldhekar into a bar.

Although the workers eventually allowed Koldhekar to cast his vote for Clinton, he was frustrated by the difficulty he ran into at the polls. Koldhekar posted on Twitter about the incident to make sure that other voters, especially first-time voters, are aware of their rights.

“Minorities are more likely to have their registration challenged,” Koldhekar said. “You shouldn’t have to fight for your right to vote.”

Closer to campus, Maddy Brannon also ran into unexpected issues at her polling station on Semple Street.

Brannon, a junior natural sciences major and a Trump supporter, said that when she got to the polls, the workers couldn’t find her name in the system. She had registered to vote through a Clinton-supporting group on campus. Brannon commented on the issue with her Republican ballot and said she thought the election was rigged to be begin with.

Brannon said this election is important because the United States is at “the turn of a third world war” with fighting ISIS.

“Hillary Clinton won’t do anything to stop ISIS,” Brannon said. “Honestly, we need to start a war. It’s not what I want, but those are not the kind of people you can sit down and have a conversation with.”

For most students, however, the only obstacles to voting on campus were long lines and difficult decisions.

Kim Rooney, a sophomore double majoring in English writing and communications, passed through the polling station in Soldiers and Sailors. Rooney, a first-time voter, cast her ballot for Clinton.

“[Voting was] a little anticlimactic after the crazy campaign season we’ve had,” Rooney said. “It feels strange knowing nothing more can be done.”


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