Centers coming soon to Hill District, North Side
by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer
Just because it’s called a “mail-in” ballot doesn’t mean you have to actually “mail it in.”
For the first time, Allegheny County has opened satellite voting centers in various sites across the county, allowing prospective voters to request, receive, fill out and submit a mail-in ballot in one stop.
The first satellite voting centers opened Saturday, Oct. 10 and Sunday, Oct. 11, but the satellite voting center that opened inside Pittsburgh city limits (aside from the County Elections Division headquarters on Forbes Avenue, Downtown) was at the CCAC Homewood Branch. Turned out, a block party of sorts accompanied the new venture by the county in Homewood. As hundreds of people walked into the CCAC Homewood Branch surrounded by the live DJ, fresh food and other vendors, they walked out of CCAC with their “I Voted” stickers proudly displayed on their shirts. Allegheny County’s elections officials were accepting the mail-in ballots at CCAC Homewood from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Oct. 10, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Oct. 11.
ALLEGHENY COUNTY RESIDENTS were able to fill out their mail-in ballots and then submit them at the satellite voting center at CCAC Homewood Branch, Oct. 10-11. (Photos by Rob Taylor Jr.)
Amie Downs, spokesperson for Allegheny County, told the New Pittsburgh Courier that roughly 1,950 mail-in ballots were submitted at CCAC Homewood on Oct. 10. Another 1,000 mail-in ballots were submitted there on Oct. 11, as the Pittsburgh Steelers held off the Philadelphia Eagles; the football game was shown on a big screen during the block party on Oct. 11.
CCAC Homewood Branch site of first Satellite Voting Center in Allegheny County (Courier Video)
The next satellite voting center inside city limits will be held, Oct. 17-18, in the Hill District, at the former Shop & Save Building, 1850 Centre Ave, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Oct. 17, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Oct. 18. Another block party will also be held there during the afternoon hours.
Allegheny County hasn’t forgotten about the North Side. On Oct. 24-25, the satellite voting center inside city limits moves to the CCAC Allegheny Campus, 808 Ridge Ave. The makeshift voting center will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Oct. 24, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Oct. 25.
DONTAE COMANS AND ASHLEY COMANS, pictured above. Dontae Comans is a Wilkinsburg School Board member, and his wife, Ashley, a former Wilkinsburg School Board member, is programs manager for the Alliance for Police Accountability. “We see what we see today that we’re not satisfied with, because we’re not voting and we’re not engaging as much as we can,” Ashley Comans told the New Pittsburgh Courier. “If you want to change something, you have to do something to change it. Once you vote, then you also have to make sure the folks that you’re voting for are doing what they’re supposed to do. And when they’re not, we vote them out.”
The satellite voting centers are another way the county is ensuring voters that their mail-in ballot would reach a county election official and thus, be properly tabulated for the upcoming Nov. 3 General Election. In addition to the satellite voting centers being a “one stop shop” in applying for, and ultimately submitting, a mail-in ballot, a person who already received their mail-in ballot through the mail has the option to submit the ballot at one of the satellite voting center locations, rather than sending it back to the county through the mail.
As for the accompanying block parties, after all, it is cause for celebration when someone casts their vote, doing their civic duty, and making their voice heard, said Charla Glass. She submitted her mail-in ballot on Oct. 10 during the CCAC Homewood satellite voting center event.
SHE VOTED—Charla Glass (right) submitted her ballot at CCAC Homewood on Oct. 10. She’s pictured with her “I Voted” sticker.
“It felt really good, because it feels like there’s so much against us right now, so many things trying to stop us from voting, and it’s a right that our ancestors fought for,” Glass, an African American woman, told the New Pittsburgh Courier.
“I really wanted to vote because there’s a lot of stuff going on out here,” said a curious Marina Waters, who, at 19 years old, submitted her mail-in ballot at the satellite voting center at CCAC Homewood, Oct. 10. It’s her first time voting for a U.S. presidential candidate. “More people need to vote that’s my age. They think they shouldn’t vote because they don’t like either one of them (major party candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden), but at this point, it doesn’t really matter. I think everyone should come out and vote.”
Waters came to fill out her mail-in ballot with her mother, Deneen Ward. Ward said she hasn’t missed an opportunity to vote in decades.
“I have Black brothers and I have Black male figures in my life and I worry about them every day,” Waters, who resides in Penn Hills, told the Courier. She also mentioned that at her school, Pittsburgh Career Institute, there are very few African Americans in her veterinary technology program. Being cognizant of candidates who value diversity and advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement are key factors in who got Waters’ vote.
RUSSELL NANCE, FOSTER TARVER, ROBERT FARUQ WIDEMAN, KAMAU JACKSON, ALEXANDER LEWIS. They are members of the Elsinore-Bennu Think Tank for Restorative Justice, and have been canvassing Homewood and other areas to make sure African Americans will vote in the upcoming election. (Photos by Rob Taylor Jr.)
Miracle Jones is with the organization 1 Hood Media, which helped organize the block parties in conjunction with the A. Philip Randolph Institute and the organization Voter Empowerment Education and Enrichment Movement. The organizations are part of PA Black Votes Matter, which encompasses dozens of organizations dedicated to promoting voting in Black communities. Jones told the Courier that “for the past few years, we’ve had different organizations actively encouraging people not to vote.” This creates a disenfranchisement of Black communities, some of whom in those communities believing that certain public policy issues which could prove beneficial for African Americans seem to “take forever” to get passed in the world of politics. It oftentimes makes some African Americans less enthusiastic about voting.
“What we’re trying to do is go back and empower and educate people at what’s going on…and bringing them back in,” said Jones, who is 1 Hood Media’s director of policy and advocacy.
MALIKA BROADUS, ANDREA JAMES, LIBBY BROWN. They’re members of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc., Lambda Lambda Zeta Chapter, encouraging people to vote in the upcoming election.
Among the organizations with a booth at the block party in Homewood was the Elsinore-Bennu Think Tank for Restorative Justice, a community partner of Duquesne University. Robert (Faruq) Wideman and other members told the Courier they were “canvassing Homewood, handing out flyers, putting up posters, trying to talk to some of the people that most folks won’t talk to.”
Wideman said that contrary to popular belief, those with felonies or other criminal records can vote in Pennsylvania, including those currently on parole and are not confined to any institution. The Courier has learned via the website votespa.com that one cannot vote in Pa. elections if they are currently confined in a penal institution for conviction of a felony or a misdemeanor and would not get released until after the election; are in a halfway house or other alternative correctional facility on pre-release for conviction of a felony and wouldn’t get released until after the election; or was convicted of violating any provision of the Pa. Election Code within the last four years.
“If you don’t vote, then you’re still casting a vote for the other person,” Foster Tarver, another member of the group, said. Tarver said when a person doesn’t vote, subconsciously, “you’re working against yourself. You’re not working in your best interest.”
TENILLE THOMAS, pictured at top right: “I always vote. I think that’s always a part of your civic duty, so I vote every time. It always makes you feel that you’re a part of the community and that your voice matters.”
“I always vote. I think that’s always a part of your civic duty, so I vote every time,” said Verona resident Tenille Thomas, 40, who submitted her mail-in ballot at CCAC Homewood on Oct. 10. “It always makes you feel that you’re a part of the community and that your voice matters. As a people, we always didn’t have that right and we weren’t seen as people who were worthy of casting that vote. So I feel like it’s important for you to appreciate that ability and that right to vote and be a part of what’s happening in the world today. Instead of sitting back saying, ‘What can I do?’ or ‘I don’t like things,’ do your part to help it change.”
Deneen Ward and her daughter, MARINA WATERS, submitted their mail-in ballots at the satellite voting center inside the CCAC Homewood Branch, Oct. 10. Satellite voting centers move from week to week, and will be in the Hill District, Oct. 17-18, and on the North Side, Oct. 24-25. (Photo by Rob Taylor Jr.)
The upcoming Satellite Voting Centers:
Former Shop ‘n Save, 1850 Centre Ave., Hill District
808 Ridge Ave., North Side