Lehigh students’ hands-on involvement in the election has been stunted by COVID-19 precautions, but this pandemic has not halted interest and engagement.
The College Democrats, College Republicans, PA Students for Biden and Student Political Action Coalition (SPAC) are working to facilitate political discourse on Lehigh’s campus.
Sara Boyd, ‘21, founded the nonpartisan political activism group, SPAC, as a first-year in 2018.
“We saw that there was this air of inaction on campus, politically,” Boyd said. “It wasn’t at all what we envisioned a campus to look like.”
She said the culture of political involvement and involvement in the surrounding community of Lehigh has changed in the short amount of time in which SPAC has been present on campus.
“Lehigh went from doing nothing about any of the elections to holding debate watch parties and going out on the front lawn for Constitution Day,” she said.
Brian Lucas, ‘22, president of SPAC, said the club had many plans for this semester leading up to the 2020 election. They planned to get out the vote by helping students register on the front lawn.
SPAC was also putting together a concert with student acts to get people excited about the election. One of their largest efforts was to turn Zoellner Arts Center into a polling location, but these plans have all been canceled in order to follow COVDI-19 precautions.
Before the Lehigh campus moved to a remote format, SPAC did tabling on the South Bethlehem Greenway while the Lehigh art gallery was setting up their new exhibit along the path. They asked people if they were registered to vote and helped those who weren’t get the information they needed to do so. Lucas said that out of all of the people they spoke to, only two were not registered.
In the effort to get out the vote, Lucas said SPAC is reaching out to other organizations on campus like Greek life and cultural groups to get as many people registered to vote as possible.
Boyd stressed the importance of registering to vote and then creating a plan of when you are going to vote, where you are going to vote — whether that is by mail or in-person — and knowing the rules and regulations of the voting process.
“Making a voting plan is the single most important thing you can do to ensure that you and anyone else you care about is actually going to get out and vote,” Boyd said.
After the Pennsylvania voter registration deadline on Oct.19, SPAC will shift its focus to voter education.
“Once everyone is registered, it’s time to focus on what kind of issues are on the ballot, what can you expect when you go to the polling places, what do you need with you when you go,” Lucas said.
This type of information will be covered in the voter education workshops SPAC is planning to hold. They also plan to hold a virtual watch party on election night.
Devin Yeatter, ‘21, founder of PA Students for Biden, has been making efforts to get out the vote as well. In the spring, when Joe Biden became the frontrunner for the Democratic party, Yeatter reached out to the campaign with interest in joining a Pennsylvania organization in support of Biden. When they told him there wasn’t one formed yet, he started PA Students for Biden, which has taken root at universities all over the state with some of its largest chapters at the University of Pennsylvania, University of Pittsburgh and Temple University.
“We are pretty much doing anything we can to help the Biden campaign in Pa. reach out to students who historically haven’t voted as much as older individuals,” Yeatter said.
PA Students for Biden is spreading information through its social media pages, its website and phone banking. Yeatter said the organization is phone banking by calling random people and asking if they are registered as well as relational phone banking where the members call or text friends and ask them the same questions.
In its informational campaign, PA Students for Biden is also including information on other ways to get involved, such as being a poll worker.
Yeatter said he is passionate about getting involved in this election because he wants to ensure that young voices are heard, especially since historically, younger people and students have had a lower turnout at the polls.
“This is the most important election of our lives, and the younger you are, the longer the ramifications of this election will be felt by you,” Yeatter said. “We offer a very unique perspective to campaigns in this environment.”
He said because of the nature of online campaigning, young people have the opportunity to take a more hands-on leadership role in this election.
Although this 2020 election is important, it should not be the end of that conversation, Boyd said.
“Structural change doesn’t happen when a different president takes office,” Boyd said. “It takes a lot more digging and hacking at the root to fix the things that we’re seeing in our communities. So vote, get involved politically, do all that good stuff, but at the end of the day, change doesn’t just happen by voting. At the end of the day the work on the ground doesn’t really stop no matter who is in office.”