Anyone who has watched the past presidential and vice presidential debates will probably agree with me that this upcoming election has been the most vicious and polarized presidential race in recent memory.
The past two races in which Barack Obama ran against John McCain and Mitt Romney seem positively tame in comparison to the heated anger and inability to be civil in the race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Whether you agree or disagree with this shift in political discourse, people certainly are interested in the presidential race. With the political platform of both parties getting more and more polarized, people can get entrenched in their views and feel more threatened by what they view as the radicalness of the opposing side. A good dose of fear helps people pay attention.
At Lehigh, this has led to more students registering to vote. While I have heard of several friends who have sent in their absentee ballot, many students have chosen to register to vote in Bethlehem by using their Farrington Square mailing address or local off-campus house address. It seems a lot of people have registered this way because they believe their vote matters more here because Pennsylvania is a swing state.
As someone whose first political memory is crying when John Kerry lost to George W. Bush when I was 8, it’s safe to say I care about politics a lot. It warms my nerdy, little heart to see people, especially people my age, getting involved, caring about politics and voting, regardless of which party they choose. As a someone who also lives in the area, however, I’m a little hesitant about how the Lehigh student vote will affect the other elections on the ballot.
Elections lower on the ballot are often neglected by voters. In a Bethlehem precinct that saw 523 voters in the last presidential election, only 66 turned up for the last local and state election. The results of these lower ballot elections often impact people’s daily lives more than presidential elections. I know I can’t tell you how the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership would affect my daily life, but I know several instances where local and state rulings have personally impacted me.
The problem I see with Lehigh students voting in the area is they are voting for positions they probably don’t care about, and the elected officials in these positions won’t make decisions that affect them during their time here.
A lot of people do not research candidates before they vote even if they live here, so I honestly can’t fathom that Lehigh students would. People often straight-ticket vote, meaning they vote for one party down the ballot, or they just pick random names when they get to candidates they don’t know. This could outweigh the vote of my fellow political nerds who did their research on candidates.
“I think it’s kind of like the issues that local government covers sometimes are not things that, unless you’re living in an area and you think you’re gonna be in that area for a long time, are necessarily the type of thing that you’re gonna get super interested in,” said J. William Reynolds, the president of the Bethlehem City Council.
Luckily, there are no local elections in this cycle. South Side’s voter turnout is usually much less than the North Side’s voter turnout, and since Lehigh students will be voting in South Side polls, they could easily outweigh the votes of South Side residents who have to live with the direct consequences of the results of local elections.
Pennsylvania, however, has one of the most contentious state elections this cycle. U.S. representative Charlie Dent is up for re-election, and the race for U.S. Senate between Pat Toomey and Katie McGinty has been especially heated. An influx of non-Pennsylvania residents voting in the state could sway the election against the interests of Pennsylvania residents.
I am in no way trying to dissuade Lehigh students from voting. Voting is an important civic duty, and I believe a strong young voter turnout will be essential for this election. With an election of this magnitude, the results will determine what kind of America we will all enter the workforce as after we graduate. I believe it’s especially important for our voice to be heard in determining this.
What I am calling for is for Lehigh students to be informed voters. Do your research and figure out which candidates align the most with your values. If that happens to align with a specific party, by all means straight-ticket vote, but don’t blindly choose your candidates based on what party you are or what party you’ve grown up being told you are.
“Wherever one votes, it is crucial to be educated about the issues and candidates,” Bethlehem council member Shawn Martell said. “Democracy properly demands active participation wherever and whenever possible. The outcome improves the more citizens of all kinds engage. If people care about the communities they are in, it shouldn’t matter where you vote.”
Anna Simoneau is the visuals editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected].