Lehigh Valley colleges mobilize students to vote

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With Election Day quickly approaching, colleges in the critical Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania, including Lehigh University, Lafayette College and Moravian College, have all seen a variety of student-led initiatives to mobilize their peers to vote.

Though in-person canvassing efforts have been challenging due to the coronavirus pandemic, organizations have shifted their efforts online to mobilize voters.

Maddy Proulx, a senior at Lafayette, said though the lack of students living on campus at her school has been a challenge, organizations like the Lafayette Democrats and Lafayette Republicans have launched social media campaigns to get students registered to vote.

“It encourages people to vote and to register to vote, especially in Pennsylvania, which is a swing state,” Proulx said. “I think the general consensus among our student population is that we know this is an incredibly important and contentious election.”

In addition to student-led efforts, some colleges have been distributing resources directly to their students. 

Emily Saulino, a junior at Moravian, said Moravian has added a module on Canvas — the school’s course management platform — that includes voting resources and information so that students can be informed on how to register and the different vote-casting options available to them. 

“There’s a lot of resources available,” Saulino said. “For people who haven’t voted in the past, especially freshmen who are probably just 18 or 19, it helps them understand how to do it.”

Although some schools and organizations have been offering resources to students, classes have not been canceled on Election Day at Lehigh, Lafayette or Moravian. Many students feel that having class could interfere with them or their peers’ ability to get to the polls, especially with the long lines people are expecting. 

Elizabeth Kolaski, ‘21, believes Lehigh should have canceled classes across the board on Nov. 3.

“(General elections) happen every four years, and for them not to be able to cancel one day of classes, especially when it’s remote, is pretty ridiculous,” Kolaski said. “It could affect people’s ability or timing to vote.”

Arielle Gordon, ‘21, also agrees classes should be on hold for Election Day at Lehigh. 

“I know a lot of people are stressing about having class and getting their work done, but also making time to vote,” Gordon said.

Although students are disappointed by the decision to hold classes on Election Day, many students are vocalizing their opinions and taking it upon themselves to share voting resources on social media.

“I know myself and my friends are all posting on our personal accounts to get out and vote,” Gordon said.

Although many students are posting resources, information and opinions, a trend that students are noticing is that more liberal leaning students have been sharing on social media as opposed to conservative students.

Proulx said a common sentiment among more conservative students is that many feel they’ll “get attacked” if they express their opinions. 

“What I’ve seen is the people who are voting for Biden-Harris this election are the ones being a lot more vocal about the election and registering to vote,” Proulx said. “However, there are a great number of people who have not been vocal at all.”

Kolaski also agrees Biden voters have been more vocal on social media, making it harder to gauge where Lehigh generally stands. Two Brown and White polls released this semester have each found more than 80 percent of Lehigh community poll respondents support Democratic nominee Joe Biden over President Donald Trump.

“I would say there are pockets of beliefs, I think that people who are voting for Biden-Harris are more vocal just because it’s important to get that word out before the election, but there are also a lot of Trump supporters,” Kolaski said.

Saulino guesses Moravian leans toward the liberal side based on her class discussions and on-campus organizations.

“There’s a lot of support for Black Lives Matter and things that Biden is much more in support of, so that makes you think it’s more that way,” Saulino said. “But again, there could be a lot of people who support Trump.”

Though it can be hard to determine which way each campus leans, students are making a concerted effort to get out and vote.

Proulx said she thinks only a minority of Lafayette students will choose not to vote. Historically, youth voter turnout has been the lowest among all voting-eligible age groups in the United States, according to the Census Bureau. The 2018 midterms, however, saw a historic increase in youth voter turnout compared to the 2014 midterms. 

“It can mean a lot of different things to people our age, especially the issues of health care and social justice issues that a lot of people our age really care about and are invested in,” Proulx said. 

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