Oakland voters show up in force to cast ballots


Sarah Cutshall | Visual Editor

Chalk art on the sidewalk outside the McKee Place fire station urges people to vote.

By The Pitt News Staff

Voting this year may have looked different than in previous elections, but Pitt students and Oakland community members showed up at the polls, ready to fulfill their civic duty — socially distanced and masked up.

Voters cast their ballots for their presidential and local candidates of choice, as well as stating their position on a charter amendment that, if passed, would require police officers to cooperate with investigations conducted by Pittsburgh’s independent Citizen Police Review Board.

Colson Pelletier said he voted for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden because he thought he was more qualified for the presidency than President Donald Trump.

“Trump is just not political, and has no idea how to conduct himself in front of people and has no idea how to be an actual president,” Pelletier, a sophomore mechanical engineering major, said. “Biden actually cares about the environment, which is a pretty big thing for me.”

Thor Brodniak, a first-year psychology and biology major, said this was his first time voting in a presidential election and chose to vote for Biden because of Brodniak’s personal family dynamic.

“I live with two physicians and we believe in science,” Brodniak said. “As well as both of my dads being, well, gay. If you’re gonna go for an option there’s only really one.”

But for many voters, Biden may not have been their first choice, but when compared to Trump, how to vote became an easy decision. Bea Amsalu, who voted at the William Pitt Union, said the idea of Trump for another term was enough reason to vote for Biden.

“I voted for Biden, but not necessarily because he was my first choice, but I couldn’t stand having Trump for another four years,” Amsalu, a sophomore neuroscience major, said.

Other voters, like Claude Corbett, chose to vote for a third-party candidate. Corbett said he voted for Howie Hawkins, the Green party presidential candidate, at the McKee Place fire station. He said he believes voting for Biden is not going to solve the issues that he feels strongly about based upon Biden’s political history.

“I don’t support someone like Joe Biden who has a history of sexual assault alligations, a history of being buddy buddy with segregationists, wrote the ’94 crime bill, was the architect of the Iraq War and the list goes on,” Corbett said. “I don’t think that [voting for Biden] solves anything, and I think we need a party that actually fights for working people. My vote for the Green party is a protest vote. I think we need a new party, the Democrats are a hopeless party.”

Local politicians also made an appearance in Oakland, hoping to make a day-of push to student voters. Jay Walker — who’s running on the Green party ticket to represent the state House 23rd District — was campaigning outside the WPU since the polls opened trying to court liberal-leaning student voters.

One other issue on the ballot was the charter amendment regarding the Citizen Police Review Board. If passed, the amendment would authorize the board to audit the police bureau and change board member removal procedures. It would also mandate that police officers suspected of misconduct cooperate during a CPRB investigation.

Pelletier said he voted “no” on the Citizen Police Review Board charter amendment. He said he thought the board, which is composed of citizens, wasn’t qualified to look into police matters.

Amsalu said she voted in favor of the charter amendment, adding that she definitely agrees that police should be investigated.

“It’s like checking the police and how there’s investigative teams that’ll check for police investigations, so I was like, yes, that is definitely something that I would want,” Amsalu said.

No matter who they voted for, voters largely found the process simple and straightforward. Brother Joel Hammer of The Pittsburgh Oratory on Bayard Street, who voted at First Baptist Church on North Bellefield Avenue, said he found minimal difficulty in casting his ballot in person.

“I was surprised, it was pretty easy,” Hammer, whose faith kept him from revealing who he voted for, said. “There’s a lot of chaos going on with COVID and stuff, so I was happy the poll workers were helpful, straightforward.”

Poll workers and election judges served as the glue holding the polls together. Some provided pizza, snacks and water for voters, and all helped anyone having trouble with the voting process.

Tuesday’s election was not Bonnie Krout and James Love’s first rodeo. Both from nearby McKees Rocks, Love began working the polls in 2008 and Krout started the year after. They both said their favorite part about working the polls was the friendly people they get to meet and the familiar faces they see each year.

Krout said she sometimes encounters voters who ask her who they should vote for. While she cannot tell them to vote for a specific candidate, Krout said she does offer a small piece of advice.

“You vote with your heart and your mind,” she said. “You put it together and figure out which person you might like better.”

Barbara DiRiso, the election judge for Ward 4 District 12, mentioned a few individuals who came to vote in person after not having received their requested mail-in ballot, and said poll workers helped fill out the necessary paperwork to count their vote.

The problems that some voters encountered with mail-in ballots incentivized some voters into forgoing that process altogether and just voting in-person.

Fiona Kean — who switched her registration from New Jersey to Pennsylvania so her vote would have more of an impact in the 2020 election — said she almost requested a mail-in ballot, but she thought it was safer to go in-person.

When it comes down to civic duty, Kean, a senior marketing and data analytics major, said it’s “really cool” to see 18- to 24-year-olds flocking to the polls, exercising their right to vote.

“Even if you don’t have the same beliefs as me, I think voting and exercising that right is really crucial in this time,” Kean said. “Making sure your voice is heard especially as college students … it’s a big movement we’re living through right now.”