Pitt students hit the streets to get Dickinson on the ballot


Photo courtesy of Lucy Bornhorst

Pitt student Catherine Tomes holds a sign encouraging voting as a part of the Dickinson campaign.

By Ashton Crawley, Staff Writer

First-year Lucy Bornhorst spends part of her days learning from Pitt political science professors before heading downtown to try to get a Pitt Law professor elected to Congress.

Bornhorst is one of about 20 student volunteers — most of whom attend Pitt — who worked to get Pitt Law professor Jerry Dickinson on the congressional ballot.

As a field intern for the Dickinson campaign, Bornhorst said volunteers typically canvass door-to-door in neighborhoods in the 18th Congressional District for a few hours at a time, finding out what issues matter to voters. She decided to join Dickinson’s campaign, her first ever, at the beginning of the spring semester.

“I had been looking to work on a campaign so it was just a beautiful opportunity,” Bornhorst said. “I’m canvassing because I believe it’s the best way to reach voters and hear what matters to them while also letting them know there is a new and different option than the incumbent this year.”

Dickinson announced last April that he was launching a progressive primary challenge against 25-year incumbent Rep. Mike Doyle to represent Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District. The central tenets of Dickinson’s campaign are economic and social issues such as health care, economic mobility and workers’ rights.

The campaign has taken Bornhorst to towns like Bethel Park, Pleasant Hills and Clairton in the South Hills — part of its “Everybody, every borough” initiative to try to reach voters in all corners of the district. Bornhorst said she enjoys this people-first nature of the campaign.

“We are meeting with voters and hearing what really matters to them,” Bornhorst said. “We are trying to meet voters in every borough and neighborhood. It feels like the campaign is bringing people together from across the district.”

Volunteers worked to obtain the 1,000 signatures needed to get Dickinson on the statewide Democratic primary ballot by last Tuesday’s deadline. Volunteers started collecting signatures last August, but began canvassing more frequently in January.

Organizing this volunteer effort is Karyn Bartosic, a Pitt sophomore studying politics, philosophy and classics. As the campaign’s volunteer coordinator, she was responsible for planning intern schedules and making sure volunteers knew where to meet up for that day’s canvassing.

“I have worked on local campaigns in high school, but this is my first federal campaign,” Bartosic said.

Bartosic said she has learned a lot about Pennsylvania politics, such as the rules and regulations surrounding the number of signatures needed to appear on voter ballots, through her time canvassing throughout the district.

Bartosic added that her experience with Dickinson’s campaign is different from others she has worked on because he spends more time with his volunteers.

“It’s a very special campaign of this caliber,” Bartosic said. “It’s for the U.S. House of Representatives and most of the time, you’re not going to know the congressman you worked for, and I think that’s a pretty cool thing.”

Canvassing can have its good moments as well as its less enjoyable ones — many of which involve constituents’ dogs, Bartosic said. One time, a district resident’s dog escaped from their yard and the volunteers watched as Dickinson and his campaign manager chased him and brought him back home. But occasionally the campaigners will be invited into someone’s home and will have an interesting conversation with the resident.

Bornhorst said canvassing allowed her to hear directly from people in the area about their issues. She recalled one particular canvassing experience with a woman in Clairton who was concerned about pollution from Clairton Coke Works and the opioid crisis.

“We talked to her for probably 20 minutes about how she was addicted to opioids and was able to combat that addiction,” Bornhorst said.

Bornhorst said she hopes that her time working on a campaign will help her in her future career.

“I’m not sure where I want my political career to go, but I ultimately want to work at the State Department or somewhere abroad,” Bornhorst said.

Dickinson said his student volunteers are an essential part of his campaign and their involvement demonstrates a desire for change from younger votes.

“The young volunteers on the campaign are realizing that they have a stake in the future. They want to be a part of the decision-making process,” Dickinson said. “They want to be part of a movement that gives them a voice.”