In light of the upcoming election, fears about the validity of mail-in voter ballots have arisen nationally as well as within some members of the Lehigh student body. New post office reforms proposed by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy may threaten the timeliness of ballot delivery, which could negatively impact the voting and counting process.
Given these fears, some Lehigh students are working to emphasize the importance of voting.
Dom Ocampo, ‘22, who is involved with Lehigh Valley Democratic Socialists of America, a political chapter championing voting rights for the greater Bethlehem area, said fears over mail-in voting are rational and that they are a big part of why she is involved in political organizations throughout the Lehigh Valley.
“This is a very clear attack on voting rights — I believe that everybody deserves to be able to vote, and should be able to do so easily,” Ocampo said.
Ocampo got involved with the Lehigh Valley Democratic Socialists of America through a recommendation posted on the @LehighStudentsforBLM account.
“As a student who isn’t native to Bethlehem, I think we have a responsibility to show up for the residents in the area and make sure we are taking care of this place that didn’t start off as ours,” Ocampo said.
According to the national page for the Democratic Socialists of America, one of its current campaign focuses is “electoral strategy,” which includes holding elected officials accountable for their constituencies.
In emphasizing the importance of voting, the organization also stresses that every citizen should be allowed to cast a vote, whether that is via mail or in-person.
Moreover, Ocampo explained the uncertainty of mail-in ballots being delivered on time disproportionately affects populations that do not have the ability to vote in-person.
“I am a huge supporter of voting accessibility, including the incarcerated population’s rights to vote for the candidates,” she said.
Although the Democratic Socialists of America espouses Ocampo’s values, she said she is ultimately involved to create a positive impact on local politics in the long-run, even beyond the election.
“This is a problem that is not just relevant to my values, but to the betterment of the community long-term,” Ocampo said.
Aiden Galbraith, ‘22, like Ocampo, is involved with political organizations in the Lehigh Valley that work to secure citizen’s rights to vote despite obstacles such as mail-in ballot delays.
Originally from a small town, Galbraith said coming to Lehigh transformed his involvement in political activism, which has given him a clear awareness and understanding of the potential consequences of an election miscounted.
“I’m from Southern Maine, where there aren’t big cities, so I haven’t really been exposed to this type of activism before,” he said.
Over the summer, Galbraith was part of the Beyond Bars Mountaintop Project, during which he worked in social justice relating to prisons. The focus of the project was sharing stories to make people more aware of the injustices that exist within the prison system.
“This, in particular, really opened my eyes to the problems within the system that I had no idea about,” he said.
By gaining a greater understanding of the system at large, Galbraith said he is better able to identify the long-term effects of voter suppression.
“If the USPS becomes privatized, we could be facing another four years of injustice,” he said.
Within the Lehigh community, Galbraith has been doing his best to educate those around him, making them distinctly aware of how critical it is to vote despite all of the uncertainty surrounding this election.
One arena where Galbraith has been able to do this is through his position as a Gryphon.
“One of the potential hall-events the Gryphons in my building have been planning is holding a Virtual Pizza night for one of the debates,” Galbraith said.
Galbraith explained it has been difficult to decide how exactly to engage students in conversations about the election, but that events such as the Virtual Pizza Night would be a great first step.
“Although it is hard to get a pulse on first-years in terms of political engagement, I try to emphasize to my residents that their action or inaction will have consequences in the election,” he said.
Kerry Shamnoski, ‘22, also a Gryphon, said she has talked to her residents about many voting topics, including registering to vote and the difference between swing states and safe states, emphasizing the importance of voting in Pennsylvania — a key battleground state this election.
Shamnoski is also heavily involved with Lehigh Valley Stands Up, a political organization with chapters throughout Pennsylvania.
Through this organization, Shamnoski attended a Lehigh Valley Bloc Party, an event celebrating what it would look like if schools were properly funded and a celebration of future opportunities, creating a “vision for the Valley.”
This overarching “vision” extends to the wishes that students like Shamnoski, Galbraith and Ocampo have for a fair election. In order to achieve this vision, everyone’s vote must be fairly counted.
“I think that most students have a general awareness of the dangers of an unfair election, but those students that are more involved can educate their peers,” Shamnoski said.
Along these lines, Shamnoski said she hopes to use her involvement in organizations outside of Lehigh to encourage more students to branch out into local politics.
“I want to find more outreach within (Lehigh Valley Stands Up) at Lehigh, and make sure it is more broadcasted to the Lehigh community,” Shamnoski explained.