By Jacob Biernacki, Monae Findley, Kimberly Keagy, Luke Lueckert, Kelsey Mikeska, Nicole Pampena, Grecia Ruiz and Malike Turner, Point Park News Service:
The 2016 general election will be remembered as a populist revolt that the mainstream media and pollsters failed to predict.
As Tuesday night became Wednesday morning, election officials nationwide called state by state in the favor of Republican nominee Donald Trump over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes were called in the 2 a.m. hour.
But before the polls closed and before the nation received news of its new leader in the wee hours, students captured a snapshot of the Southwestern Pennsylvania voter psyche. From the heart of Downtown Pittsburgh to the suburbs of Robinson Township, Ross Township and Bethel Park, and even reaching Donegal in Westmoreland County, Point Park University students spoke to voters who expressed a sense of duty to elect a “hard worker,” vote for “change,” and a fear that they were in for a nail-biter.
A long and grueling campaign season ended on Tuesday as Downtown voters at Epiphany Church cast their ballots.
Pennsylvania polls opened at 8 a.m., but the line started at 6:30 a.m. Listening to the church bells in the background, Epiphany was quiet on a chilly morning. Only a few voters wore stickers in sign of support for the candidates. Others remained quiet in line, keeping their choice to themselves.
Exiting the entryway of the polling place, some individuals wore their “I Voted” stickers proudly after performing their civic duty. This election brought out returning voters and first-time voters with many different reasons for supporting either candidate.
Emily Matthias, 20, from Downtown and a registered Democrat, voted for Clinton. “She’s the better option and has some great plans,” Matthias said. Matthias did a lot of research, for this election, and that helped her form her decision. “Trump has not presented many plans like Hillary has,” she said.
Lilly Shupe of Apollo, a student at Duquesne University also voted at Epiphany Church, and also went for Clinton.
“I’m voting for Hillary Clinton because I’ve always been a Democrat, and my political views line up with what Hillary Clinton believes in. And Donald Trump sucks,” Shupe said.
Democratic committee representatives handed out literature outside of Ross Township polls in a last-minute attempt to sway voters.
The literature mainly consisted of slate cards promoting a straight Democratic ticket for each of the offices up for election.
Local residents entering the polling location gave a variety of responses, ranging from politely declining to refusing the literature in disgust.
Stationed outside of the Ross Township Community Center, Ed Nassan, 80, a former president of the Hotel and Casino Workers Union, has been supporting the Democratic party for eight years.
Looking back at his time as a representative, he commented on the historically polarized presidential race and the high voter turnout.
“I’ve never felt this way before, but [Donald Trump] sends an evil feeling in my body,” Nassan said.
Outside of 175 Corbett Court, David McDonald, of Ross Twp., who came out to vote with his young son, went against his chosen political party, Republican, to vote for Clinton. “I went against my party because they picked a candidate that’s insane,” explained the 40-year-old caseworker. “He’s crazy, and I cannot support somebody like him.”
At First Bethel Methodist Church in Bethel Park the lines at the place were short. People outside discussed their choices and debating their merits and shortfalls before making their choices inside the church.
Of the voters students spoke to there, they were almost split down the middle. Tawnie Krzyzanowski, an office manager by trade, voted for Trump because of his policies on business.
“I think he’ll do good for the industry because he seems more about the people than himself.” Krzyzanowski said.
Other people, like Randall Rusch Jr., a small-business owner, voted for Trump because of their dislike and distrust of Clinton.
“Hillary is so corrupt, the corruption runs in her family,” Rusch said.
But South Hills voter Nancy Toth said she voted for Clinton because they liked her qualities. “She is the best candidate, [and] she has the experience to be president,” Toth said.
Sharon Deeb, a resident of Bethel Park, voted for Clinton because of her credentials and dislike of Trump. “I think she can do the best job, I don’t think Trump knows foreign policy and has never paid taxes.”
Lastly, some voted Clinton because of their own personal beliefs on political issues and party affiliations. One of those is Carol Sidic, a retiree who is a strong Democratic Party supporter.
“I just believe in the Democratic Party programs. I have never agreed with any of the Republican Party Programs.”
West of the city at St. Stephen’s Church in Sewickley, as the polls were opened, there was a friendly atmosphere as people exercised their right as U.S. citizens to choose America’s next president.
The line moved quickly, and George Merrick, 83, of Sewickley, was there to aid the peaceful process. Merrick, who is retired, adorned himself with an assortment of Americana garb and sat for 13 hours outside of the polling
place. He was offering decorated clothespins with instructions that read “To hold your nose while you vote!”
He said he wanted to “express the frustrations so many people have” and “add a little humor.”
Merrick was not the only one offering support to voters. Vivian Cirlano, 17-year-old student, of Sewickley, was not able to vote, but that did not deter her from offering fliers to voters and commending them on taking action. She considered it her “consolation prize” for not being able to vote.
“[This is] as close as I can get to the polls,” Cirlano said. “I really wanted to vote.”
For some, like Nick Bonesso, 52, of Robinson Twp., the race was personal.
“Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of my mother’s passing. In her obituary, we said, ‘In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to Hillary Clinton.’ My mother loved Hillary Clinton. That was sort of our legacy to her.”
East of the city, students spoke to voters from Pittsburgh’s east neighborhoods all the way down to Donegal in Westmoreland County, where one student encountered a hostile voter who asked poll workers to contact the police as he was reporting.
Michelle Bertoni, 27, of Lawrenceville, expressed excitement about a woman possibly becoming president.
“I think it’s time we have a strong, independent woman in the office,” Bertoni said. “I couldn’t come to vote for a reality star as president. I believe in what she stands for.”
“He doesn’t have a general understanding of the U.S. government and our policies.”
Further along the Allegheny River in Oakmont, Joe McAndrew, 26, also expressed support for Clinton, though less enthusiastically.
“I voted for Hillary Clinton. She’s not my favorite Democrat, but she’s not Donald Trump, and that is enough,” McAndrew said. “Even if she isn’t the best candidate, she understands global politics, how to work with world leaders, and she understands that you can’t just blow up over every little thing.”
Southeast of Oakmont, in Westmoreland County, Freshman journalism student Luke Lueckert spoke to several Trump supporters at the Donegal Community Center, until one became hostile and asked poll workers to call the police to ask him to leave the property.
“One voter asked me who I was voting for, and I told her I couldn’t say because of journalistic etiquette,” Lueckert said. He said she then asked poll workers to call police.
“They [the police] told me they wanted me to go because they didn’t want any problems, it was more they wanted me to leave for my safety,”
Luekert said he didn’t want to share the voter’s name because he did not want the situation to escalate further in his community of Donegal.
Yet, several other voters were willing to speak with Luekert, like Rita Martin, 86, of Donegal Township.
“It is a duty to vote, I have done it since I could,” Martin said. “Trump will make change so vote for him!”
A NEW PRESIDENT
Today, the U.S. awoke to its new leader, Republican president-elect Donald Trump. While not all voters who students interviewed will see the president they wanted, both candidates spoke of unity in their victory and concession speeches.
“To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people,” Trump said in his early morning victory address.
Though Clinton called Trump to concede before dawn, she addressed the nation in a concession speech late Wednesday morning.
“We are stronger together, and we will go forward together, and you should never ever regret fighting for that,” Clinton said.