Lehigh Valley residents, students prepare for midterm elections

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Voters all across the country will head to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 6 to cast their ballots. Every member of the U.S. House of Representatives will be up for election, as well as some U.S. Senate members, state officials and school board members.

On and off campus, Lehigh students and residents of the Lehigh Valley region have mobilized for the election.

On campus | Off campus 

Off campus: Demonstrating to support President Trump

The Second Street Ramp by Perkins Restaurant and Bakery has become a hotbed for local political activism.

Brett Kavanaugh protesters used the location in the midst of his confirmation hearings, when the now-Supreme Court justice was alleged to have sexually assaulted Dr. Christine Blasey Ford when they were in high school.

More recently, on Oct. 10, four individuals took to the location to express their support for President Trump and conservative candidates on the ballot in the region.

One of those individuals was Chip Sleeper, a Lehigh Valley resident. He said he hopes for a “red wave” this November and feels a need to show support for the candidates he hopes will be victorious in a few weeks.

“We feel a need to be out here, expressing our opinion,” Sleeper said. “We’ve been getting a lot of honks, a lot of feedback. Probably 90 percent of the feedback has been positive, with a couple (of) crude remarks.”

Sleeper said he and other like-minded individuals have been making stops all over the region to support their candidates, including at the Lehigh Valley mall, I-78 in Hellertown and Cedar Crest Boulevard in Allentown.

Sleeper held signs that read “Police Lives Matter,” and one supporting the Wagner-Bartos Republican ticket for Pennsylvania governor.

Lehigh Valley Tea Party Chairman and Bethlehem resident Tom Carroll rallies support for conservative candidates on the ballot in November. Carroll said he backs President Trump’s agenda and believes that many in the Lehigh Valley do, too. (Jordan Wolman/B&W Staff)

Sleeper said he fears “open borders” and believes nothing will get done with a Democratic majority in Congress. He believes President Trump is taking the country in the right direction, despite the fact he occasionally “mouths off” — which Sleeper chalked it up to “Trump being Trump.”

Tom Carroll, a Bethlehem resident and the chairman of the Lehigh Valley Tea Party, joined Sleeper near the Second Street Ramp. He said he supports the agenda of President Trump because of his beliefs in a limited government, a secure border and the need to preserve constitutional rights.

He takes his right to speak out seriously.

“Free speech isn’t free anymore,” Carroll said. “We do this because the mainstream media has a hatred of anything conservative or traditional. There’s a lot of people out here who believe what we believe, and we are here to tell them, ‘you’re not alone.’”

As for the Pennsylvania gubernatorial election, Carroll spoke of the failure he perceives in Harrisburg with Gov. Tom Wolf and why he supports Scott Wagner.

“We pay the highest taxes and have the worst roads in the country,” Carroll said. “We succeed more when the government is off our backs.”

On campus: Raising Lehigh’s turnout rate

Election fever is hitting Lehigh’s campus, too.

Sara Boyd, ‘21, the president of the Student Political Action Coalition, said her organization is putting forth an all-out effort to increase Lehigh’s voter turnout rate in a campaign beginning Nov. 1.

“We are organizing rides to the polls, we will be organizing informative fliers about every single candidate running in this district, we are putting together a midterm panel with professors to get different perspectives on why this election is important,” Boyd said. “All the way until Nov. 6, it’s going to be intense.”

In the last midterm election in 2014, a study by Tufts University found the average turnout rate for college students was 18.1 percent.

For Boyd, that is the most concerning issue of all.

“My hopeful outcome is that we have the largest Lehigh student turnout ever,” Boyd said. “I lean left, but if turnout is high, I don’t really care. I just want us to be voting.”

She said most members of the Student Political Action Coalition are motivated not by policy, but by changing the perception of what voting and elections really means to democracy.

Boyd stressed the magnitude of the midterms for Lehigh students specifically, with Pennsylvania being a swing state and the 7th congressional district being one of the most hotly-contested ones. Susan Wild (D) and Marty Nothstein (R) are vying for a seat in the U.S. House after the retirement of Charlie Dent, and the most recent poll shows Wild with a narrow lead.

Still, it can be challenging to mobilize voters.

“One of the biggest challenges we’re facing is getting students to realize the power of their vote and their voice and being able to translate that into engaging with politics,” Boyd said. “What I’ve noticed when I drive to the Promenade shops or to my off-campus jobs is I haven’t seen as much of the outward indicators of election enthusiasm. I hope that doesn’t mean people aren’t enthused…. I’m a little skeptical if voter turnout will increase and if people are as aware of the issues as they could or should be.”

Lehigh students registered in Pennsylvania should check their registration status to find out their polling location for Nov. 6.

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