Voters wait in line to get into the Banana Factory polling center on Nov. 3, 2020. Some Lehigh students had classes cancelled, which gave them more time to wait in line to vote. (Leslie Regan/B&W Staff)

Bethlehem voters turn out to cast their ballots in battleground county

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In the midst of a historic year, marked by social unrest and a global pandemic that has uprooted Americans’ lives at nearly every turn, Lehigh students and Bethlehem residents turned up at the polls on a sunny Election Day to cast their ballots.

Cyanah Ramsay, ‘22, from New York City, and Kanea Brooks, ‘22, from Baltimore, show off their “I voted” stickers at the Broughal Middle School polling place. (Andrew Issacson/BW Staff)

Cyanah Ramsay, ‘22, and Kanea Brooks, ‘22, both voted in their first presidential election today.

Ramsay, who voted for Democratic nominee Joe Biden, said voting is a duty.

“I just feel like Trump had his four years, and most of it was spent reversing all the good that Obama did,” Ramsay said. “We’re not saying that Obama was a perfect president, but he was really trying to be there for all people.”

Brooks said since she is a Black woman, she feels like she has a voice for the minority population. 

“So I just have to use that ability because some people don’t get it,” she said. 

Taylor Pistone, ’21, also voted in her first presidential election today.

“I felt that given the political climate and everything going on that it was really important for me to make sure my voice was heard,” she said. 

Humza Ahmed, 28, a Bethlehem resident, said he’s voting Democratic down the ticket. He casted a provisional ballot after waiting for about an hour at Broughal Middle School because he didn’t receive his mail-in ballot in time. He recognizes the significance of his vote in Northampton County, given its bellwether nature in a swing state. 

The county supported President Barack Obama twice before flipping red to back President Donald Trump four years ago.

“I’m confident that my vote will be counted,” Ahmed said. “It’s super important.”

John Kinney waits in line to cast his ballot. Kinney, a Bethlehem resident, voted for President Trump. (Andrew Issacson/BW Staff)

Both Democrats and Republicans were represented at the polls in Bethlehem today after record numbers of early voting. 

John Kinney, age 57, has been a Bethlehem resident his whole life. He voted for Trump.

“I’m happy with what he’s done so far for the country. I don’t believe everything that’s happening is his fault,” Kinney said. “If you look at it overall, he’s done a decent job.”

Jim Merrill, age 58, is a North Bethlehem resident and volunteer for Republican congressional candidate Lisa Scheller’s campaign. Merrill said, with few exceptions, Democratic Rep. Susan Wild has voted in “lock step” with her party.

Jim Merrill, a North Bethlehem resident and campaign volunteer for Lisa Scheller, stands outside the Banana Factory polling place. (Jordan Wolman/BW Staff)

“Quite frankly, I’ve been used to politicians making lots of promises and delivering very little, and I’d really like to see a change,” Merrill said. “What Lisa is offering is, I’m very big on term limits, she’s already committed to doing that.”

Dolores Bonewicz, a Bethlehem resident, age 67, works as a housekeeper at St. Luke’s hospital. She voted at Broughal Middle School today because she didn’t trust mail-in ballots — though Bonewicz said she also felt uncomfortable with the crowded nature of the polls due to the pandemic.

The conflict between uncertainty over mail-in ballots and safely voting in person during the COVID-19 pandemic was on several voters’ minds. Ahmed said it was “frustrating” not receiving his mail-in ballot in time. Multiple Lehigh students reported delays in their mail-in ballots, too.

Patrick Hoke, age 26, a Bethlehem resident, said he intended on voting early, but lost his mail-in ballot and came to Broughal Middle School to file a provisional ballot. 

Patrick Hoke, Bethlehem resident and medical assistant, waits outside the Broughal Middle School polling place to cast his ballot. (Andrew Issacson/BW Staff)

Shivani Patel, a Bethlehem resident, works at St. Luke’s hospital. She also voted in person to ensure her vote would be counted. 

Pennsylvania approved 3.1 million mail-in ballots, and 78 percent had been returned to their respective counties as of Nov. 2. The vast majority of mail-in ballots in Northampton County were sent to registered Democrats.

Bonewicz said it’s been several years since she last voted — but that she wanted to voice her opinion this year. She went to the polls with Francine Ryan, age 70, a Bethlehem resident and a security officer at Wind Creek.

“I don’t want to live in a socialist America,” Ryan said.

There’s also been some focus on the local State House race for who should represent Bethlehem in Harrisburg. State Rep. Steve Samuelson, a Democrat, has held the seat since 1999, but he’s seeing his first Republican challenger since 2012 in Scott Hough.

Steve Reichenback, age 38, from Alburtis, Pennsylvania, is canvassing for Hough.

“The issues most important to me in this election are security of the nation and where the nation is going with everything like all the riots,” Reichenback said. 

Samuelson, speaking at Broughal Middle School, told The Brown and White he’s pleased with the turnout he’s seen across the city today.

Democratic State Rep. Steven Samuelson stands outside the Broughal Middle School polling place. Samuelson is up for re-election against Republican Scott Hough. (Andrew Issacson/BW Staff)

“I’m very energized, the turnout I’ve seen today all over town is phenomenal,” he said. “I was at one polling place where there were 76 people in line when the doors opened. I believe this turnout is going to be the highest we’ve seen. People are really energized and this is their choice to decide which direction our country takes. This is their chance to have a say.”

The Brown and White also interviewed Wild in Stroudsburg. Wild is up for re-election to represent the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District. She is running against Scheller.

She dropped off her ballot a few weeks ago at the Lehigh County Government Center. She said there are “a lot of eyes” on Pennsylvania.

Wild said younger people seem much more engaged this year than in 2018. 

“2018 was good, don’t get me wrong, but I was at Lehigh in 2018. I remember it was raining, and people were engaged, but they seem much more engaged now,” Wild said “I always say you guys are the ones that should be engaged because it’s your future and what happens in this election could literally change the course of this country for decades.” 

Josh Lentz, ’24, waits in line to cast his ballot. Lentz voted for the first time today. (Emma Satin/BW Staff)

Josh Lentz, ‘24, a registered Democrat, is voting for the first time. He said he is probably voting blue down the ticket. 

The gravity of this election isn’t lost on me,” Lentz said. “This election right here, right now, is the most important signaling factor for our future, not just for our country but for our world.”

Lentz said climate change is important to him. 

“We’re probably running out of time if Donald Trump gets elected and he doesn’t do anything about the climate,” he said. 

Patel said it wasn’t a hard decision for her to vote for Biden.

She said health care, social issues and reproductive rights are important to her. 

“I know there are a lot of reproductive issues going on right now, so I want to fight for those,” Patel said. “I’m ready for someone who has common sense.”

Emma Satin, Abby Buckham, Simona Shur and Katrina Fett contributed to this article.

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