Citing students' abysmal voter turnout numbers in the last mayoral primary, a few dozen students at the University of Pittsburgh have formed a new group meant to forge a stronger student voting bloc for the May 22 primary election this year.
Students for Building Power (SBP) said it has secured 1,500 commitments to vote since its campaign began about three weeks ago. The group has a goal of 3,000 confirmed student voters by election day.
"The majority of them will be voting in the 4th Ward, I believe it's (Council0 District 8, and in the last contested mayoral primary, there was less than a one percent turnout," said Nikki Luke, an organizer for SBP. "Given that we already have so many people who have pledged to vote and there are 4,000 people registered there, this could really be an important part of determining which way the 4th Ward goes."
Luke said her group not only aims to improve student voter turnout, but also to advocate for greater dialogue on students' concerns. She said the four Democratic mayoral candidates displayed a lack of commitment to student issues when they were asked specific questions at a Pitt mayoral debate last week.
"Some of those questions were simply dodged by the candidates," Luke said, "like what they're going to do about cleaning up Oakland and encouraging renters' rights and preventing slumlords in Oakland. We're really focused on the issue of public transit and also on the issue of just environmental action."
Luke said her group wants to know how candidates plan to address several environmental problems in Pittsburgh, including poor air quality and recurring problems of combined sewer overflow.
She said SBP is not endorsing any candidate. The group will focus on the mayoral race but encourages voting in other municipal elections as well.
If Students for Building Power can secure 3,000 commitments to vote this May, that bloc could have a substantial impact on the primary election. According to the Allegheny County Board of Elections, 45,416 people voted in the 2009 mayoral Democratic primary.