Midterm Election Day arrives

By Gwenn Barney

As the economy continues to struggle, Pitt students have seen a rise in tuition and an increase… As the economy continues to struggle, Pitt students have seen a rise in tuition and an increase in fees.

But some political experts say Pennsylvania’s economic woes, rather than stimulating change, could be a reason why students — a historically apathetic voting group — won’t show up to the polls today.

This election represents the first time in four years that both a senatorial seat and gubernatorial position are up for grabs, but G. Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll, said the lack of high-profile or controversial issues could reduce students’ interest in voting.

“There’s not a lot of social issues being addressed,” Madonna said. “[Students] don’t relate to the issues that are being presented. If there were hot-button issues, students might have more interest.”

Pitt political science professor Kristin Kanthak agreed, saying that students might not have a direct connection to economic issues, which have been a large focus of today’s election.

“The economy is really going to overshadow everything else,” she said.

Junior Elizabeth Abeling won’t be voting in the election today, but it’s not because the issues don’t interest her. She said she hesitates to cast her ballot because, as an out-of-state student, she hasn’t had the time to learn enough about the candidates.

“In terms of local politics, I just don’t have enough time to inform myself,” she said.

Pennsylvania’s midterm elections will be marked by tight races. According to the most recent Quinnipiac poll released yesterday, Republican senatorial candidate and former Congressman Pat Toomey leads Democratic nominee Rep. Joe Sestak  50 percent to 45 percent among likely voters.

In the gubernatorial race, Attorney General Tom Corbett holds a 52 percent to 42 percent advantage over Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato. The poll was conducted by Quinnipiac University and took place Oct. 25-30, during which time 1,244 likely voters were surveyed by phone.

Generally speaking, students are not considered “likely voters.”

For the most part, student turnout for elections lags behind the overall population. During the 2006 election, the last gubernatorial race, election board officials found that only 20.35 percent of the 3,600 people registered to vote in Posvar Hall made it to the poll.

Allegheny County Division of Elections manager Mark Wolosik said the general pattern holds true — students vote at a lesser rate.

Despite local political experts’ jaded expectations of student voters, Pitt students on both sides of the political spectrum have put in the effort to get out the vote.

Members of Pitt’s College Democrats and College Republicans will be canvassing, phone banking and passing out information at local voting places in today’s last-ditch attempt to amass votes for their respective parties.

“We’re going to be pushing the Democratic agenda,” Kelli Vandergrift, president of the College Democrats, said.

College Republicans Vice President Matt Vermeire said his student group will be following a similar course of action in support of its party. Vermeire estimates that more than 30 group members have been working with campaigns for a total of more than 200 hours of volunteer work a week.

Today they will be phone banking, poll watching and driving people to the polls who couldn’t otherwise make the trip.

“We are involved now so we can have a better future for ourselves and future generation.” Vermeire said.

Freshman Joe Thomas has been working with senatorial candidate Joe Sestak’s campaign since he first moved to campus. Today he will join fellow democratic supporters in Kiva Han coffee shop on Craig Street, which will serve as headquarters for both Pitt Democrats and the Sestak campaign in Oakland.

Along with his fellow democratic advocates, Thomas will be canvassing in local communities. Thomas’s experience with the Sestak campaign has given him access to lessons he couldn’t learn in the class room.

“It helped me understand grassroots movements better,” he said. “And how to get people mobilized.”

Some students might not feel a direct connection to the issues at hand, but Kanthak said that shouldn’t stop them from voting.

“Voting matters, not necessarily because you can affect the outcome of the election, but because it sends a message to the winners and losers,” Kanthak said.

Students who live on campus will be primarily voting today in Posvar Hall, Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and the Louisa Street firehouse, depending on where they live. More information can be found at www.votespa.com.

Races to Watch:


Democrat: Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato

Republican: State Attorney General Tom Corbett


Democrat: Congressman Joe Sestak

Republican: Former Congressman Pat Toomey

14th District representative:

Democrat: Congressman Mike Doyle

Republican: Melissa Haluszczak

Green: Ed Bortz

State legislature:

20th legislative district:

Democrat: State Rep. Adam Ravenstahl

Republican: Alex Dubart

Victory for Vybiral: Kenneth J. Vybiral, Jr.

23rd legislative district:

Democrat: State Rep. Dan B. Frankel

Republican: Daniel Ulrich Wiseman