Voting groups work to register students before Oct. 7 deadline


TPN File Photo

Pitt students line up to register to vote outside the William Pitt Union.

By Ashton Crawley, For The Pitt News

Though the 2020 presidential election remains more than a year away, voters in Pittsburgh can still prepare to vote in a number of local and statewide races Nov. 5. 

Tyler Viljaste, the chair of the Student Government Board’s Community and Government Relations Committee, said those elections are just as important.

“Even in the Oakland area, students live here, they’re tenants, they’re affected by the choices that local politicians make,” Viljaste, a sophomore studying politics, philosophy and finance, said. 

In November, students voting locally will be able to choose between candidates for district attorney, county executive, County Council, county controller, school district board of directors, Superior Court and City Council.

Viljaste’s committee organized several programs for SGB’s recent Civic Engagement Week, including a Voting 101 informational event where students could register to vote last Tuesday, National Voter Registration Day. Though each state’s voter registration deadline differs, Pennsylvania’s deadline is Oct. 7. Students can choose whether they want to register to vote at their school address or their home address.

“A lot of times when students come to campus they don’t really know how to go about voting because this isn’t their home,” Viljaste said. “Registering to vote takes, like, two minutes. It’s a pretty easy process, which is why I think everyone should be at least registered to vote.”

In order to vote in Pennsylvania, students must be 18 on the day of the election and have been a citizen of the United States for at least a month as well as a resident of the district in Pennsylvania in which they’re voting for a month prior to the election.

Students can register online or mail in an application to the County Election Office to vote in Pennsylvania. They can also sign up at one of the voter registration booths run by various voting or politics-based organizations at high-traffic locations around campus. Many student organizations ran drives to sign students up throughout National Voter Registration Day.

John Altvater, a junior and the president of the Political Science Student Association at Pitt, volunteered at the PSSA’s booth in front of the William Pitt Union on Tuesday.

“Voter registration is essential to the process as a whole,” Altvater, a political science major, said. “People complain about not being able to go out and voice their concerns and opinions and this is the first step to being able to do that, so that’s why we’re out here today.”

Ciara Markoski, a first-year studying history and political science, was at the booth in front of the Union as well. Markoski joined the PSSA and the Pitt Democrats this year because she’s “always been passionate about politics,” she said.

“I feel that everyone should have a say in their government, whether it’s federal, state or local,” Markoski said. “Every election is important.”

In front of Towers on Fifth Ave. that same day, NextGen America, a “youth voter” advocacy organization, was running another voter registration drive. Zach Frey, a first-year studying neuroscience, said he volunteers with NextGen to make sure that college students are represented in the voting process.

”I think that a lot of students think that their voices don’t matter or that it’s not important to vote while they’re at college,” Frey said. “I think it’s really important to register people while they’re here so they can make their voices heard.”

Many students also choose to vote by absentee ballot. In Pennsylvania, students can apply online for an absentee ballot starting this year. Students from other states can go to to find their state’s registration site and apply for an absentee ballot.

The 2019 ballot will feature a mix of incumbents and challengers. Lisa Middleman, an Allegheny County public defender, launched a bid this summer against incumbent district attorney Stephen Zappala. John Weinstein, the county’s current treasurer, and Rich Fitzgerald, its executive, are both running unopposed for re-election to those positions. Republican Brooke Nadonley is running against Democratic incumbent Chelsea Wagner in the race for county controller.

Most Oakland voters live in county districts 10 and 11, so they’ll also see DeWitt Walton or Paul Klein — the unopposed Democratic incumbents running for County Council in those districts — on their ballots, along with Bethany Hallam and Samuel DeMarco III, both running unopposed for the council’s two at-large seats.

Most of Central and South Oakland lies in City Council District 3, where incumbent Bruce Kraus also faces an independent challenger in Oakland resident Jacob Nixon. The rest of Pitt’s campus lies in Districts 6 and 8, whose City Council representatives are not up for re-election this year.

While voting is a big part of the political process, it’s not the only way for students to make their voices heard while in college, Viljaste said.

“Obviously, you can be an activist as well. You can get involved in organizations on campus or outside of campus that work to change things,” Viljaste said, “but voting is something so simple and something that everyone should be doing.”