One year after a presidential election with record breaking turnout in Pennsylvania, Bethlehem residents and Lehigh students headed to the polls today to vote in local races.
This year there was the race for mayor, county executive, four seats on City Council and other races.
Chris Brumfield, who has been the judge of elections in Bethlehem 1 North District for the past eight years, said this year’s election was “slower than a slow election,” and voter turnout was down dramatically, even for an off year.
“Well, it’s not a presidential election — those always draw out the most voters. But they don’t realize that all politics are local,” Brumfield said. “We’re electing a new mayor, county council, school board — things that are important to make a direct impact on their lives.”
At the Cathedral Church of the Nativity polling location, Brumfield said 33 constituents showed up to vote in the first five hours and about 45 voters came in by 1:30 p.m.
He said there are 1,113 registered voters in Bethlehem 1 North District and 219,563 registered voters in Northampton County. For the 2020 election, there were 227,378 registered voters in Northampton County.
“Our voter turnout is nowhere near what it should be,” Brumfield said.
He said that Obama’s election in the late 2000s had an over 50 percent turnout in Northampton County. He said he would be surprised if the turnout reached 10 percent this year.
The municipal primary election in May of 2021 had a 20.97 percent turnout in Northampton.
One of the local races today was the mayoral race between Democrat J. William Reynolds and Republican John Kachmar.
Mark Talijan, Bethlehem resident and facility manager, said he votes in every election and believes it’s his duty and responsibility to decide who is going to represent his city.
He said every local race today is vital, but the mayor’s race is the most important, with the selected candidate serving for four years.
Talijan said when deciding who to vote for, he factored in how the candidates answered their questions, what their vision is for Bethlehem and why they want the job.
“Coming out of the pandemic, hopefully, we’re getting into a situation where the city is going to need to grow and change, and do some things,” he said. “We need to have somebody in there that has that ability to think down the road.”
Lehigh President Joseph Helble voted at The Banana Factory and said he has voted in every election since he’s been eligible.
“Participation is essential,” Helble said. “That’s what participatory democracy asks of each of us. That’s why I’m here.”
Jaime DeJesus, a local healthcare provider, voted at St. John’s Windish Evangelical Lutheran Church.
He said he voted for all Republicans today since the city is majority Democrats. He said he doesn’t want the Democratic candidates to get the sense that “it’s in the bag all the time,” and wants them to know there’s some opposition.
DeJesus said even though it was his choice, locally, you can’t go wrong with any of the candidates.
DeJesus said voting is the right and responsibility of every citizen to get the proper representation they want.
“If you don’t use it, then you’re cheapening it, because not everybody can vote,” he said. “So, if you can and you don’t, you’re not taking full advantage of this great nation (and) the way it works.”
Leslie Robinson, a retired Bethlehem resident, votes in every election as well. This election she voted straight Democrat down the ballot and said she always votes for the Democratic candidates in every election.
The biggest reason she said she votes is because of her grandson and because she doesn’t want things to regress.
Gene DiPalma, a polling place runner, has been fixing minor voting machine issues and keeping polling places stocked with necessary voting materials for the past five years. He also continuously observes a variety of polling places and is on-the-go all day.
“Since I’ve had the same route the entire time I’ve been doing this, I’ve gotten to know my polling places pretty well,” DiPalma said. “What I’m seeing is more people coming out early in the day than the last two elections.”
First-time poll watcher, Curt Kemmerer, said he saw about a dozen voters show up during one hour midday at Broughal Middle School to fill out a ballot — this felt low to him.
“Vote if you’re eligible,” Kemmerer said. “Do your civic duty.”
Jordan Knisley, who ran unopposed for Northampton County’s magisterial district justice, felt similarly about the low turnout. She said there’s a possibility mail-in ballots played a larger but less visible role.
For those who chose to vote in person, Knisely said there may have been some confusion about where to vote on Election Day.
She said that factored into her decision to volunteer throughout the day with Lehigh Valley For All, a nonprofit organization that educates community members on the political system and gives voters a platform.
“There have been a lot of Lehigh students out and about wondering where they vote,” Knisley said. “So I help them find where their polls are and make sure they’re registered here.”
Jack Curtis,’22, said he came to the Second Ward polling place, Broughal Middle School, but found out his address was registered for the Third Ward location which is the Banana Factory.
He said he makes an effort to vote in the presidential election, but said starting locally could be a good place to make a difference, which he was attempting to do today.
He said he hopes his fellow students also decided to vote. Lehigh students were given the day off of classes for the first Civic Engagement Day to encourage students to head to the polls and engage in conversations.
“Just do it,” Curtis said. “I don’t really care who you vote for or how educated you are in your voting process, just vote because there’s a lot of people who don’t want you to vote.”
DiPalma agreed and said regardless of political affiliation, if people want to be served best, they must let those in office know what they want by casting their votes.
“Washington doesn’t decide my property tax — Washington doesn’t decide my school taxes,” DiPalma said. “Everything starts at home — your life starts at home. Why not fix the problems at home and pay attention to what’s going on at home before we worry about what’s going on elsewhere. Let’s start at home.”