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Signed, sealed, registered: Pitt students register to vote online

By Alex Leighton / Staff Writer

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As the 2016 presidential primaries loom closer, an on-campus political event looked beyond party affiliations to ensure students will get out and vote.

Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., roughly 150 students registered to vote at Pitt’s National Voter Registration Day. Pitt College Democrats, Pi Sigma Alpha and Black Action Society sponsored the event outside the William Pitt Union.

The groups, however, did not put up signs around the registration table announcing their involvement, and they did not ask students which party they were registering for.

Charlotte Goldbach, vice president of Pi Sigma Alpha, said this tactic was crucial to the event’s success.

“There’s been a lot of commotion about the 2016 elections,” Goldbach said. “But we don’t want to tell people how to vote. We just want them to get involved.”

With a row of six computers set up outside the Union, volunteers flagged down passersby and asked them to take a moment to register. Although the registration process was quick, long lines formed as students waited to use the computers.

Once at a computer, students accessed Pennsylvania’s online voter registration application to complete the form, which asked questions about their citizenship, age, party affiliation and reason for registering. Students can also use the application to update prior registration. If the information entered matches the applicant’s Pennsylvania Department of Transportation number, the application will be sent to their county voter registration office.

Applicants can visit VotesPA to monitor the status of their application.

In previous years, College Democrats have handed out paper voter registration forms outside of the Litchfield Towers lobby. The group typically gathered 30 to 40 completed forms. This year, Gabbi Hill, a junior chemistry major and president of the Pitt College Democrats, estimates they had 150 people register online through the event. Hill credits the increased registration to the speed and ease of the Internet compared to paper and pencil.

In addition to getting students to vote, the event raised awareness about the need to re-register if a student has changed residencies from his or her permanent home to a college address.

The co-sponsors also attributed the event’s successful turnout to this summer’s enforcement of the voter registration amendment. On Aug. 27, Gov. Tom Wolf and Pennsylvania Secretary of State Pedro Cortes announced Pennsylvania could begin registering voters online. The Pennsylvania government approved the amendment in 2002, but Gov. Wolf did not implement it until this summer.  On Aug. 27, Pennsylvania became the 23rd state to use online registration.

Brandon Small, a senior who registered as a Democrat at the event, said many college students aren’t aware of the registration rules regarding changing residencies.

“No one knows that you have to re-register when you move to college,” Smalls, a microbiology major, said. “It sucks. I’m going to tweet about it later.”

Aminata Kamara, a member of the Black Action Society, said the new online registration encourages more people to vote.

“The election’s coming up,” Kamara, a sophomore nursing student, said. “More black people need to vote. More young people need to vote. And I’m both.”

To increase the number of voters they could register, the three co-sponsoring groups decided to merge and co-host the event several weeks ago.

“The best way to do something is to do it together,” Goldbach said.

Hill said she was not surprised to see a large turnout.

“It surprises me that people don’t maintain this conversation,” Hill said. “Membership for College Democrats recently skyrocketed, but only because of the upcoming presidential elections. It’s important to maintain some degree of conversation year-round.”

According to Hill, there are about 60 members in College Democrats this year. In previous years, it only had about 20 members at each meeting. Although membership spikes slightly around each presidential election, Hill said this is the highest its membership has been.

“The election has definitely caught the interest of a lot of students because we’re going to be jumping into careers and starting families soon,” Hill said. “All these decisions that are being made currently are going to affect our future lives.”

Although the event had a strong focus for the upcoming 2016 election, Hill is optimistic that this political awareness among students will extend beyond presidential campaigns.

“I’m hopeful,” Hill said. “I think young voters are sick of watching debates for entertainment, they want to talk about policies that will affect their lives, regardless of political party.”

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Signed, sealed, registered: Pitt students register to vote online