Volunteers encourage student voting on campus


Students wait in line to vote in the 2018 midterm election at the Posvar Hall polling location.

By Janine Faust, Managing Editor

By the time polls closed in Pennsylvania, more than 1,000 people had waited in lines and successfully voted at the William Pitt Union Lower Lounge. Another 1,000 had voted at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, and nearly 600 had voted at Posvar Hall.

For many, this was the first vote they cast since the 2016 presidential election, when Pennsylvania narrowly elected Trump by just one percentage point.

“This whole presidency has made me feel like I have to go vote,” Bella Sedor, a junior nutrition and dietetics major, said. “The more people vote, the more we show a backlash to what’s going on.”

Efforts to get people out to vote continued on campus throughout Election Day. Members and volunteers with the Pittsburgh chapter of NextGen America, an environmental advocacy nonprofit and political action committee, stood at the corner of Bigelow Boulevard and Forbes Avenue encouraging passersby to go vote from 8:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. The group handed out free cookies and stickers, blew bubbles and waved signs with slogans such as “Honk If You’re Voting” at passing cars.

Anushay Chaudry, a first-year biology and political science major volunteering with NextGen, wielded a megaphone while asking surrounding students if they had voted yet, instructing them to get a cookie as a reward if so.

“I love being an activist and showing people that they have this right,” she said. “You can see change by voting.”

Brooke Taylor, a field organizer with NextGen, said the group was pleased with the positive response they were receiving from people. She recounted how the activists helped encourage a student, who was going to skip voting because he had a chemistry exam, to carve some time out of his schedule to head to the polls.

“These are really important conversations for us … we want to show that no matter what’s going on in your personal lives, you still have time to get out and vote,” she said.

Division and violence colored the weeks leading up to the election, from a Florida man accused of sending homemade explosive devices to numerous critics of President Donald Trump to the anti-Semitic hate crime which took 11 lives in a Pittsburgh synagogue.

Some students who showed up to the polls had specific issues on their mind. First-year economics major Ella Donley showed up at the polls to vote for candidates in favor of gun control.

“[Gun violence is] a really big issue for me,” she said.

Sophomore English writing and anthropology major Craig Hayes, who voted for the first time at Soldiers and Sailors, said he picked candidates who would “move in the right direction” on issues he cares about, like gun violence, police brutality and mass incarceration.

“It can be hard to conceptualize your impact in such a large population,” he said. “Every vote counts.”

First-year biology major Nate Harshal did not feel very strongly about any issues but was concerned about party lines — he knew how likely it was that Republicans would retain the House, and hoped Democrats would win the Senate.

“I’d like to regain an equilibrium,” he said.

Others turned out simply because they saw it as their civic duty. Harshal described not wanting to feel like a “bystander.” Senior computer engineering major Vanessa Colihan didn’t feel strongly about any of the candidates but still thought it was important that she come vote.

“It’s a general feeling that I need to do this, and that it encourages others to do the same,” Colihan said.

Sneha Misra, a first-year neuroscience major, said voting is a necessary way for her to participate in the democratic process and make sure her viewpoint is taken into consideration.

“I think voting is a really huge deal,” she said. “By voting, we’re giving people power to represent us.”