Voter turnout soared Tuesday in Pittsburgh’s 4th Ward, home to the University of Pittsburgh’s Oakland campus and its tens of thousands of students, with more than 34% of registered voters showing up at the polls.

The figure was just below the nearly 36% turnout seen during the 2018 midterm elections, both outliers compared to the single-digit turnout that’s typical of elections that aren’t held during presidential years.

In a key swing state such as Pennsylvania, the youth voting bloc, with its growing influence but sometimes lackluster turnout, holds incredible power over this year’s midterm elections. The Union Progress spoke with young adults and students across Pittsburgh on Election Day to gather some insight into whether Pittsburgh’s youngest eligible voters are casting their ballots, and why.

Carl Jaszcar, 23, feels poorly represented by both parties.

“I’m a Christian, but I value the pro-choice side for women to decide whether or not to have a kid,” Jaszcar said. “Dr. [Mehmet] Oz holds similar values as my parents, but I’m not my parents. … He’s interested in filling his own pockets. So I went with [John] Fetterman.

“But neither one felt right.“

Kaed Rendes — the graduate student assistant for Pitt Votes, an organization working to increase campus political engagement — said that certain issues have been pivotal among undergraduates.

“Students this year have really been rallying about abortion rights,” he said.

Although midterm elections generally have lower turnout than presidential elections, national data collected by the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement at Tufts University has shown increasing student engagement at colleges such as the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.

“We got around 550 students to register to vote this semester, which is great,” Rendes said. But he noted that “there’s an increased distrust of the system” among students.

This year’s national Harvard Youth Poll reflected similar trends.

While young people are still on track to match 2018’s record-breaking midterm turnout, they reported a sharp increase in feelings of disillusionment and the idea that voting won’t lead to tangible changes.

“I’m worried about the future of our democratic system,” said Chloe Scharf, a 20-year-old criminal justice major at Pitt. “When people believe that when they lose that it’s rigged, it’s worrying for the future of a society. … But for me, that’s a motivation to vote.”

The younger voting bloc also generally leans left, with 55% preferring Democrats and 34% preferring Republicans, according to the Harvard poll.

Chiamaka Okpara, an 18-year-old computer science student at Pitt, was hesitant to vote at first. This would not only have been her first election but also her first as an American. She is Nigerian and recently obtained U.S. citizenship.

But she was too late to register, as Pennsylvania’s deadline passed on Oct. 24. Only 22 states and the District of Columbia have same-day voter registration.

“I went to the voter rally here at Pitt, and I was inspired to vote from that,” she said of former President Barack Obama’s rally on Saturday in the heart of the campus. “I do want to vote today, but it’s too late.”

Rebecca is a social services reporter at the Post-Gazette, but she's currently on strike.

Rebecca Spiess

Rebecca is a social services reporter at the Post-Gazette, but she's currently on strike.