Voting issues prominent in Allegheny County

Election cycle brings student registration and new voting process

Written By Amanda Andrews, Co-News Editor

According to data from the Pennsylvania state government, there are currently 952,343 registered voters in Allegheny County as of Aug. 26, 2019. Out of all Allegheny County voters, 76,812 are voters ages 18-24. That means a little over eight percent of all voters in Allegheny County are made up of young adults. 

On Aug. 26 and 28, NextGen America set up a table in Lawrence Hall lobby to register students to vote. Field organizer for the city of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh Sebastian Avila has worked with NextGen since 2017, and was running the table in Lawrence Hall. Avila stressed the importance of the organization’s outreach to Point Park University. 

“So NextGen is the largest youth organization in the entire country,” Avila said. “We focus on mobilizing young people throughout different universities to register and vote. And Point Park is a crucial school to Pittsburgh’s city and [the] Pittsburgh area. So we’d thought it’d be a good idea to make sure we register as many students as possible here.” 

A lot of different nuances go into the registration process. Even for those already registered, some may need to make changes to their information in order to not experience any difficulties at the polls. 

“A lot of people—we have either sophomores or juniors—who lived at different addresses throughout campus, maybe they moved from [a] dorm to a different apartment or something like that,” Avila said. “Or we even have freshmen who are coming in from different states, from different cities, who have never been registered before and we’re just registering them to their current most accurate address to make sure there is no problems whatsoever when they go to the voting polls.” 

NextGen America is a bipartisan organization, founded in 2013, with a focus on progressive issues such as LGBTQ rights, racial equality, affordable healthcare and primarily climate change. Formerly known as NextGen Climate, the organization rebranded in 2017 to NextGen America to cover a broader spectrum of issues. The group operates in Pennsylvania, Maine, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Arizona and Nevada.  

Regional Organizing Director for Pennsylvania Michael Saoma was also running the table with Avila. He said that Pennsylvania has one of the easier processes for registering to vote. In Virginia, people are required to input their full Social Security number, which “makes people distrustful” according to Saoma. He also said that there are many nuances in the voting registration procedure and that it “varies from state to state.” 

Registering young voters is only one of several issues concerning local organizations in Allegheny County. On Aug. 30, the Allegheny County Interim Board of Election met in the Allegheny County Courthouse on Grant St. to discuss new methods of submitting and tallying ballots. In early 2019, Independent Green Party 2016 presidential candidate Jill Stein won a lawsuit to recount votes in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. 

As part of the legal settlement, Pennsylvania is required to do a complete overhaul of DREs and adopt a new voting procedure which will allow a people-verifiable receipt trail for recount purposes. Allegheny County has been experiencing specific difficulties to choose an inexpensive and secure new voting method, prompting this meeting. 

One of the speakers at the meeting was Beth Schwanke, the executive director at the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security. 

“…the most secure and least expensive method of voting is hand-marked paper ballots, counted by optical scan machines with ballot-marking devices available for voters who are unable to hand-mark paper ballots,” Schwanke said.

The subsequent meeting to be hosted by the Allegheny County Interim Board on Sept. 9 was canceled according to the Allegheny County Courthouse website “to allow time for mock elections, requested by the Board, to be conducted.” Their calender states that the next meeting will not be until Oct. 22.   

The University of Pittsburgh is coordinating with NextGen America to create an event on their campus on Sept. 24, National Voter Registration Day. The last day to register to vote for Pennsylvanians is Oct. 7. The general election will take place on Nov. 5.