In the aftermath of last fall’s presidential election, many young voters eagerly looked forward to the next chance they’d have to influence their communities through the ballot box. Unfortunately for those of us in Pittsburgh, however, some of today’s most visible municipal elections offer little chance.
With polls open today on campus, around Oakland and throughout the City local voters will have the chance to cast ballots in elections for Pittsburgh mayor, some city council members and Commonwealth judges. But for students who weren’t around in May, many of their decisions have already been made for them.
The most visible races — for the City’s mayorship and for positions on city council in even-numbered districts — largely feature incumbents and Democratic nominees running unopposed. Incumbent Councilman Dan Gilman, whose district includes much of Pitt’s campus, faces no opposition for re-election. Only one district — District Four — will even see a candidate who’s not a registered Democrat.
Yet the mayor shouldn’t see what will likely be low turnout today as a sign that students in Pittsburgh no longer care about the important issues affecting our communities. One might misconstrue a low level of voter turnout as a lack of enthusiasm for the progressive agenda Peduto and other members of the City’s government have pursued since President Donald Trump took office this January.
But the significant showing for Rev. John Welch, who won almost 20 percent of all ballots in May’s Democratic primary, demonstrates that many Pittsburghers feel Peduto’s administration is leaving some of the City behind. Peduto should keep this in mind as he wins his second term.
And while students may see today’s vote as pointless and decline to cast their ballots, they should keep in mind the effects of Election Day that are less obvious than the race for mayor. Not only does a low turnout give an impression of indifference, it ignores the importance of elections for ballot questions and vital judicial elections. Judges directly apply the laws made by our City and state legislators to us — in some ways, they have the most discretionary power among officials in our government.
There are also important ballot questions at stake today. One amendment asks voters to decide if the state legislature should be able to offer property tax relief, the other concerns city employees working two jobs. Both have immediate implications for Pittsburghers.
In the wake of the Democratic primaries, voting today in the general elections might seem at first like an exercise in futility. And with a majority of the high profile elections lacking any contest, it’s not difficult to see why. But students shouldn’t take this appearance as permission not to be involved.
If you’re unsure of your polling location, you can find it at pavoterservices.pa.gov. And remember: failing to vote makes a statement, too. If you choose not to vote, make sure you’re OK with what abstention communicates.