Approximately 318,526 people call Northampton County home, according to the U.S. Census. But from that number, only 218,735 individuals are registered to vote in the upcoming election, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State.
Election Day is coming up on Nov. 7. This year is an off-year election, meaning it is neither a midterm or presidential election year. According to “Who Votes For Mayor,” a Portland State University research project, less than 15% of voting-eligible citizens are voting for local, community elections — making it sometimes lesser known or given less public attention.
During such elections, the government positions up for election are typically lower in power. This year, only three states, Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi, have gubernatorial elections, which are elections for state governors. Few states have state-level positions up for election, meaning the positions being voted on are mainly local and municipal positions.
“Local elections are a great opportunity to learn more about what the concerns of the community are,” political science professor Karen Pooley said.
Last month, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro announced residents who have a driver’s license and IDs will automatically be registered to vote. While this does not remedy the issue of voter education and turnout, it will increase accessibility to voting in all elections within the state.
Despite these local elections affecting daily lives more than the national ones, voter turnout is much lower in off-year elections. Pooley said one substantial reason for this is many voters have a harder time educating themselves on local election issues.
“You’ve got to do more digging than for national elections, which come with a lot more press and advertising,” Pooley said. “But in these local elections you’ll hear candidates speaking directly to Bethlehem residents about what they stand for and how and why they feel that matches up with residents’ priorities.”
Pooley said these elected officials make decisions about neighborhood safety, housing development and affordability, and educational opportunities.
South Side resident Tina Klein said she didn’t know much about the election because she doesn’t follow local politics.
Klein said she’s not registered to vote.
Despite this, she said she would like to see elected officials tackle the cleanliness of the South Side.
“When walking down the Greenway, I see a lot of garbage lying around, even though there are garbage cans people do not use,” Klein said.
While the South Side Ambassadors work to keep the streets clean, they do not cover the Greenway in their cleaning routes.
Klein said she would also like to see some improvements made to help the heightened homeless population on the Greenway.
Similarly, South Side resident Aleida Lebron said increasing housing options, given Bethlehem’s large homeless population, is an important issue. She said she’s concerned about the rising rent and inflation rates in the area.
“Prices, inflation, the cost of living has been rising a lot recently,” Lebron said.
Klein supports the city of Bethlehem’s plan to build a permanent homeless shelter, which would be Lehigh Valley’s first year-round housing shelter.
While Lebron is registered to vote, she said she was not aware of what candidates were running for positions of office prior to speaking with The Brown and White on Oct. 11.
Lebron added that she would imagine the student population wants the opposite of what the South Side’s population would want, especially with the issue of unaffordable markets due to the presence of Lehigh students.
“Lehigh is taking over the South Side. Because of them, prices are getting higher and rent is getting higher,” Lebron said. “Yet students are not aware of the needs of the community.”
Bridget Martin, ‘25, agreed with Lebron. She said she thinks community engagement should be incorporated into the first-year curriculum.
“A lot of students don’t realize that we are actively gentrifying the community,” Martin said.
She attributes these sentiments to socioeconomic differences between the Lehigh community and the South Side community.
“In general, Lehigh students aren’t engaged with the South Side community,” Martin said. “Not all students, but a lot of students view it as Lehigh versus the South Side.”
Overall, Martin said she hears more negative perceptions of South Side residents than positive ones.
But Pooley has a different perspective of students’ opinions.
“There are plenty of disagreements out there about how to respond to these issues, but I don’t think students would inherently oppose neighborhood residents,” Pooley said.
South Side resident Victor Quinones is both registered to vote and planning to participate in the upcoming election.
Initially, he said he didn’t believe there were many issues to be resolved on the South Side.
“Everything is going pretty good,” Quinones said. “The sidewalks and walkways are pretty clean.”
However, Quinones said there is a parking problem on the South Side that is very important to him. Currently, the majority of the parking meters are done through the mobile app ParkMobile, and Quinones finds the updated technology less accessible for many of the older residents.
“I’m 74 years old, I don’t know how to use a phone like the younger generation does,” Quinones said. “It is pretty hard for us. I can’t even park on Third Street anymore.”
Klein, Lebron and Quinones weren’t aware this election is the first time in 10 years the city of Bethlehem has had any Republican candidates running for Bethlehem City Council.
When asked about local matters, Quinones, Lebron and Klein all apologized, with Klein and Quinones both saying they “don’t follow that stuff.”
For information on polling locations in the city of Bethlehem, visit Pennsylvania Voter Services.