Students discuss the importance of local elections


Photo by Trevor Kirby

sign pointing where to vote at epiphany church on washington place.

Written By Caitlyn Scott, Co-News Editor

On Nov. 2, 2021, Pennsylvania residents and students within Allegheny County took to the election polls to cast their ballots for this year’s municipal election amid concerns over voter turnout and election security.

Being classified as a municipal election, voters will cast votes for county and city officials along with judges and magisterial district judges, though no federal or state officials were on the ballot due to the election being held during an “odd-numbered” year before the primary in 2022, according to the Pennsylvania Voting website.

“This election has more of an impact on you directly since this is based on voting for local officials,” Trevor FitzSimmons, a political science major and senator for the Student Government Association (SGA) said. “Even if they aren’t making the federal policies or state policies, a lot of times they are responsible for implementing the policies that are currently in place.”

During the 2020 Presidential Election, voter registrations and turnout within the United States sky-rocketed, showcasing significant jumps in political participation within the state and especially amongst college students.

In a study conducted by the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, college student participation increased to 66% in 2020, jumping nearly 14% since the previous Presidential Election in 2016. Voter registration has also increased, going from 69% in 2016 to 80% in 2020.

Although voter turnout was high for the presidential election, voter turnout for the municipal election held on Tuesday was predicted to decrease, which has become of concern for residents and students who currently reside within the county.

“I think that many students and residents will be discouraged from voting in this upcoming election in all counties in Pennsylvania,” Isabella Bull, a nursing student at Waynesburg University, said. “With COVID-19 and everything else going on, this election is just so different from past elections.”

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald had predicted that this election would result in only 20% to 30% residential turnout, despite six council races (with two contested due to the loss of one candidate) being announced on the ballot, according to KDKA NewsRadio.

“It is typically the lowest of the cycles that you have,” Fitzgerald said to KDKA NewsRadio. “You have a low turnout election on the school board, borough council, judicial races, which in many cases impact your life a heck of a lot more than the national ones do.”

Although many have discouraged voter turnouts, SAEM major Jacob Palmer, believes differently.

“I believe that people who are able to vote in this election being from Pittsburgh will be high,” Palmer said. “People in college are getting more and more involved in politics. For the people outside of the state, there may not be as much voting.”

As of Oct. 25, 2021, only 924,251 out of the 1.2 million residents within the county were registered to vote for the November 2 Election, according to Pennsylvania’s official voting website.

In addition to concerns of low voter turnout within the county, election security had also become a major topic, leading some to speculate if results within Allegheny were counted fairly and correctly.

On October 21, two weeks before the election, Allegheny County’s Elections Division discovered that some barcodes printed on mail-in ballots for the November 2 Election were printed on the secrecy envelopes of the ballot, rather than on the declaration envelope for voters, according to KDKA News. Although at the time only 30 out of 36,000 ballots returned to the division had this printing error, some have expressed mixed opinions on this error and other security measures for this election as a whole.

“I believe this will cause a big problem because for the people who don’t know anything is wrong, they could have their right to vote taken away because the barcode is being printed wrong,” Palmer said.

Despite this, Allegheny County’s official voting website, the Election Division, said it has worked with the Department of Information Technology (DIT) to maintain election security and ensure votes are properly accounted for. During each election cycle, the DIT tests all election poll machinery to ensure that equipment works correctly Additionally, formatted flash drives are used solely for election purposes and are wiped or re-formatted before each election, along with changes to passwords and software before every new election.

Although not currently residing in Allegheny County, Isabella Bull said that there should still be more security in the process of casting and counting votes within the state to ensure accidents, such as misprints on ballots, are not repeated again.

“I think that they have taken proper guidelines for the elections, but, I feel like they need to add more security for the election votes,” Bull said. “With how the world is going right now, I think the last thing we need is to worry about our election results getting messed up.”

After Nov. 2, 2021, the next election to be held will be the primary election, which will determine candidates who will run for “all partisan offices in their states on the general ballot on Nov. 8, 2022,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures’ website.

“People should go out and vote,” FitzSimmons said. “Even though this is a smaller election, it is just as important as the federal election. In the United States, representation starts at the local level, so that’s why it’s just as important as the federal election.”