The Lehigh College Democrats held a screening of “An Inconvenient Sequel” with a panel discussion on Nov. 1, 2017, in Maginnes Hall. The elections for local offices in Bethlehem, which will be held on Nov. 7, have historically had low voter turnout from Bethlehem residents and Lehigh students. (Sara Boyd/B&W Staff)

Low turnout expected for local elections

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Election Day is Nov. 7. Based on trends, the local election will likely see low voter turnout from community members and Lehigh students alike.

Local elections historically have low voter turnout. Only about 21 percent of Northampton County’s total population voted in 2015.

In order to cast a ballot in the local election, each voter must be registered in Pennsylvania 30 days prior to Nov. 7. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“Local elections are important because there is lower voter turnout, so you have a lot of say if you do vote,” said Emma Stevenson, ’18, the president of Lehigh’s chapter of College Democrats.

Some students might want to vote Tuesday but can’t because they are not registered in Pennsylvania. Stevenson said most members of her organization are voting in their home elections using absentee ballots.

“You should care about the community you’re living in and the South Bethlehem area,” she said. “But it’s up to you personally because some people feel strongly about voting at home.”

President of Lehigh’s chapter of College Republicans, Matthew O’Brien, ’20, said he thinks many of the members of his organization, or at least those who know about the election, will vote Tuesday.

“We have a lot of freshmen this year so they may not be aware that they are able to vote in Pennsylvania,” O’Brien said.

He said ensuring Lehigh students know they can register to vote in Pennsylvania is something his club is working on.

O’Brien said Bethlehem elections will affect Lehigh, considering Lehigh’s partnership with and expansion into the South Side. Even though local elections have a direct impact on the community, some students choose not to participate.

“Students are a part of the community, so the results of the local election directly affect them,” Tim Benyo, the election director of Lehigh County, said. “I think it’s important that students are involved with local community leaders.”

Even if they don’t cast their votes, students can participate in the election in other ways.

Benyo said Lehigh County receives help from Muhlenberg College and Cedar Crest College students who serve as poll workers and interpreters during elections.

O’Brien said the College Republicans, in coordination with the Pennsylvania State GOP, canvassed door-to-door earlier this year.

Stevenson said the College Democrats did not canvas for this election as an organization, but some members canvassed with other organizations like NextGen, an environmental advocacy nonprofit and political action committee that recruits fellows from college campuses.

Although the College Democrats did not have organized canvassing for this election, the club has relationships with the Pennsylvania Democrats and other organizations like Next Gen and Population Connection that work for campaigns. Through these relationships, the group canvassed for the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Stevenson said the Lehigh Democrats will be tabling in the University Center on Monday to remind people to vote Tuesday.

David Owolabi, ’20, said he plans to vote.

“I think that voting is one of the main things college students can do to create change,” Owolabi said, “as people ages 18 to 22 don’t necessarily have the power or social capital to change things by themselves.”

St. John’s Windish Lutheran Church is a voting location for off-campus students who are registered on East Fifth Street and Hillside Avenue. It is located on 617 E. 4th St. (Kate Morrell/B&W Staff)

Owolabi said he didn’t vote in the 2016 presidential election because he was busy with exams and did not realize how important his vote was.

He said he was unhappy with the results of the election and regrets not voting.

“When I had the chance to do something about what I believed in, I didn’t do it,” Owolabi said, “and that’s something that has stayed with me for a while.”

Sydney O’Tapi, ’18, encourages everyone registered to vote in the local election.

“Especially since we are all students, I think that we can definitely make a difference by voting in the local election,” she said.

O’Tapi is a member of the Global Citizenship program and is working on a capstone project about politics. The project aims to create dialogue on political issues that reflect the campus community and the Lehigh Valley.

O’Tapi said she and her partner, Angie Rizzo ’19, focus the dialogue of the project on national issues and how they affect the community at a local level.

O’Tapi said participating in dialogue sessions will make people realize how important voting is.

“If you want to make change,” O’Tapi said, “your community is a great place to start.”

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