Left courtesy of Corey Barsky, right courtesy of Christian Resch
As the historic Nov. 3 election draws nearer, student political groups are getting to work to mobilize voters on campus.
The College Democrats and College Republicans at Pitt have both begun work to energize western Pennsylvania voters for both local and national races, seeking to bolster voter turnout for what is considered to be one of the most important swing regions in the state, which itself is a swing state on the national level. The groups continue to hold virtual events due to COVID-19 restrictions, disrupting their typical in-person election-season activities.
With poll averages showing the Democratic presidential ticket leading President Donald Trump by just 5% in Pennsylvania, the race for the state’s coveted electoral votes may be tight. Both candidates have been making frequent visits to the state, with Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden visiting Pittsburgh on Aug. 31.
Christian Resch, the president of the College Democrats, said western Pennsylvania is an essential part of the vote on both a local and national level.
“Everybody’s tired of what’s happening at the executive level, and in Congress with the Republican Senate,” Resch, a junior political science major, said. “They’re ready to make something happen and they know that western Pa. is going to be essential to making that difference.”
Corey Barsky, the vice president of the College Republicans, said down-ballot races will likely reflect the results at the top of the ticket.
“What you’re seeing in this area is really important,” Barsky, a senior neuroscience major, said. “You’re going to need to look at people like Sean Parnell. If Sean Parnell wins Congressional District 17, Donald Trump will win Pennsylvania and will be reelected.”
Besides supporting local campaigns, both groups are hosting events with party officials over Zoom. The College Democrats hosted several young Democratic officials to speak Tuesday, including Emily Kinkead, who is running for District 20 in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, and Allegheny County Councilperson Bethany Hallam, D-At Large. Barsky said the College Republicans are trying to get Richard Grenell, the acting director of national intelligence, to give a talk at some point this semester.
COVID-19 restrictions have gotten in the way of several events planned for both groups this fall. The College Democrats planned to host more rallies for Democratic candidates similar to the ones held before restrictions were put in place, such as when multiple presidential primary candidates visited Oakland. The College Republicans also planned to host campus rallies for Parnell and Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-14, but these plans had to be cancelled.
Leadership of both organizations said they are focusing their efforts on phone banking, rather than canvassing door to door. The College Democrats phone banked last Friday for Kristy Gnibus, the Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania’s 16th Congressional District, and made calls two weeks ago for Michele Knoll, the Democratic candidate for District 44 of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. The College Republicans have phone banked for Parnell and Rob Mercuri, the Republican candidate for District 28 of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Both groups plan to keep phone banking for more local party candidates as election season continues.
Both groups typically table on campus to register voters for their respective parties, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, neither group has devoted much of their focus to these activities. Resch said the College Democrats have delegated most of the voter registration initiatives to Pitt for Biden, which has taken the lead on getting voters registered despite quarantine restrictions. The organization created an online form that students can fill out if they need help registering to vote and will host office hours to answer any registration-related questions.
Resch said most of the challenge with getting college students to register to vote comes from trying to get them motivated.
“Really with young college students it’s not the difficulty of registering to vote, it’s the tediousness of it,” Resch said. “It’s the ‘ugh I have to take 15 mins to fill this form out.’ It’s about giving people the motivation to register to vote, that’s the hardest part.”
Both leaders said they were unsure what the campus climate would look like leading up to the election. Barsky said some students harassed those tabling for then-candidate Trump in front of Hillman Library four years ago, but said he was unsure whether this type of incident would happen again, given limited in-person operations. Resch said he did not expect any issues leading up to the election, but remains cautious about tension depending on the election’s outcome.
“It’ll reflect whatever happens nationally, whatever the rhetoric is,” Resch said. “Say Biden wins and Trump refuses to step down or says that the votes are invalid, then there’s gonna be a lot of tension. If Biden loses and Trump wins, people are definitely gonna be mad, they’re definitely gonna protest.”
Sydney Wilhelmy, a College Democrats member, said college students who disagree with each other politically may have more common ground than the average voter. But he said since coming to campus, it has been a mixed bag when it comes to his discussions with peers he disagrees with politically.
“I think at this age, we have more in common now than adults do in a town who don’t interact as much, and don’t realign each other as much,” Wilhelmy, a first-year international and area studies major, said. “Some of [the conversations] have been very constructive and productive, but some of them there was no conversation and no dialogue.”
Both organizations also reminded students of the importance of voting and the various methods to accomplish this, no matter their preferred candidates.
Barsky said he recommends everyone request a mail-in ballot to ensure they are able to vote.
“Everyone should request a no-excuse mail-in ballot,” Barsky said. “That way if the polls get consolidated, you’ll still be able to get to vote into the county elections office and it’ll still be counted.”
Wilhelmy emphasized that every person’s vote counts, and taking that for granted is disrespectful to those who are most affected by an election’s outcome.
“Your vote has the chance of changing an election in this state,” Wilhelmy said. “You have a lot of responsibility with that vote, and to waste it is a lack of respect towards the millions of people that you are potentially hurting or affecting indirectly by not voting.”