Student organizations encourage midterm voting

By Andrew O'Brien, For the Pitt News

After polls close Tuesday night, Pitt students will learn two things — which new elected officials represent them, and how successful student organizations’ voter turnout efforts were.

Multiple student organizations on campus have stepped up this election season to encourage students to vote. These include groups like the Collegiate Panhellenic Association and the Asian Student Alliance, which encouraged student voter registration prior to the Oct. 9 deadline. Other organizations like Black Action Society and Pitt College Democrats hosted political events and speakers over the last semester and are still distributing information to the community.

President of Pitt’s Interfraternity Council and senior advisor of the South Asian Student Association Adwait Shukla urged students to vote, saying the midterms are more important than they realize because state-level officials have a greater impact on their lives than the president.

“If you want candidates who represent your interests, the midterms are where you should vote,” Shukla, a senior finance and marketing major said. “We’re the youngest age bracket, and also the age bracket that has the most invested in these elections. It is our future that is at stake here. We want a voice. We complain that older generations make our decisions for us, but we can’t just complain and not do anything about it.”

But based on previous campus political climates, garnering student votes is an uphill battle for Pitt’s student organizations. In the 2014 midterm, a mere 15 percent of Pitt students voted, and only 16 percent of eligible voters under 30 voted nationwide. This trend is compounded by historically low midterm turnout compared to presidential elections. In recent years, midterm voter turnout has averaged about 40 percent, just two-thirds of the 60 percent average for presidential elections.

Pitt College Democrats president and  Alexander Rose said that while PCD endorses a straight Democratic ticket, his main goal is to increase turnout regardless of political affiliation.

“Of course I would like everyone to vote Democrat,” Rose, a junior political science major, said. “But as a concerned citizen, even if there’s more Republicans and Independents voting, it signals to politicians that they can’t ignore us.”

PCD has invited speakers to campus like Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, set up voter registration booths in the Litchfield Towers lobby and the William Pitt Union and put up voter awareness posters in residence halls all around campus this semester.

PCD also canvassed for Pennsylvania State Representative candidate Connor Lamb on Sunday. According to Rose, boosting the historically low turnout of college-aged Americans will force politicians to represent their younger constituents’ interests.

“The current government is ignoring us because they can,” Rose said. “This midterm is very important because it will decide which way America goes.”

Blair Tracy, Collegiate Panhellenic Association’s vice president of programming, said voting is an easy process, even for students who have to fill out an absentee ballot — and that it’s worth the trouble considering the impact this election could have on issues that impact students’ lives, like health care.

“Some [students] are unaware of the long term effects,” Tracy, a senior applied developmental psychology major, said. “We’re on our parents’ health care until we’re [26], so we don’t worry about it, but we should be worrying about it now.”

Using another method, CPA, which encompasses 11 sororities at Pitt, began a contest to encourage sorority sisters to vote. CPA will award sisters one point to their sorority for every member that votes, and one point for every other person they convince to vote. The winning sorority, which will be announced after election day, will receive a pizza party.

BAS has also been actively reaching out to the general student body since the first week of fall semester about voting in the 2018 midterms. BAS hosted events every day of their Indaba week, including an appearance by Tatyana Ali. During these events, the organization set up voter registration tables on the sidelines. BAS also plans to hand out pamphlets with information about candidates at their general body meeting Monday at 9 p.m. in room 630 of the William Pitt Union.

BAS’s social action co-chair Rashaan Brooks, an undecided sophomore, said if Americans — especially those who don’t trust their elected officials — want to see real change, it’s vital that they educate themselves on who and what they are casting their ballot for.

“It’s not just voting. Making an educated pick is important,” Brooks said. “We have to look at what [candidates] have done in the past, and what they’re going to do.”

ASA’s board members opened their doors to members hoping to register during the last two weeks before registration closed. ASA partnered with the South Asian Student Association to host the “Civic Engagement is the New Sexy” workshop Oct. 31. ASA’s Vice President of External Affairs Albert Tanjaya said one of the workshop’s main foci was educating people on the ways this election could impact their lives.

“Politics is integrated into almost anything,” Tanjaya, an SGB board member and junior computer science major, said. “If you have passion for environmental concerns, that’s political. If you have concerns for your student debt and loans, that’s political. [With the workshop] we wanted to showcase how everyday concerns can be impacted by your vote.”

Aside from PCD, none of these organizations endorse specific candidates or parties — but not all stay neutral on the issues. ASA plans to release a statement condemning sexual assault in wake of controversy surrounding the accusations against Justice Brett Kavanaugh. In 2017, ASA also criticized President Donald Trump’s intention to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Tanjaya said Trump’s proposal to gut the birthright amendment with an executive order is another example of a policy widely opposed by ASA members.

“That’s how Asian-Americans started out in the community,” Tanjaya said. “That amendment let us have citizenship when we were born.”

As a permanent resident not entitled to vote in the midterm, Shukla wants to see Pitt students take the chance he wishes he had to make their voices heard.

“Please hold our elected leadership accountable,” Shukla said. “We don’t need thoughts and prayers, we don’t need condolences and we don’t need tweets. We need action.”

Hillel JUC, Pitt College Republicans, Rainbow Alliance and the Bully PulPitt could not be reached for comment.