Lehigh students are faced with a tough decision every election: should they vote in their home state or in Northampton County?
Michael Colón, president of Bethlehem City Council, said student turnout is influential because local elections are decided by such small margins. He said even 100 students coming to vote, depending on how they lean, can make all the difference.
He said he won by only 17 votes in a previous city-wide election.
“These positions, especially City Council, provide the most direct impact to our residents, Colón said. “I would argue that our local government is the most impactful to what we do day to day.”
Amber Brose, ‘24, the president of the Student Political Action Coalition, said voting with a Lehigh address is important, especially with the influence of Northampton County.
She said Northampton County is a “swing county,” meaning races are often close between Democrats and Republicans and can easily “swing” overall party power. So, she said it’s an impactful place to vote in Pennsylvania and in the country as a whole.
Sam Denison, ‘24, the vice president of the Lehigh College Democrats, said voting in Northampton County is “incredibly important.”
He said the county is one of six counties in the entire country in the most recent presidential elections for Obama, Trump and Biden, whose votes mirrored the national election results. To him, this means the county is competitive and elections are very close.
Denison said voter registration is one of the most important things people can do to get others aware and engaged in the upcoming election.
He said students should register at Lehigh rather than their home state because they live here for four years.
He said the College Democrats are trying to reach people who are not registered to vote in general and those who are considering registering to vote out-of-state. The club is currently focusing on tabling.
Jordan Ho, ‘27, is the kind of student some Lehigh political organizations are trying to reach. She registered to vote in her home state of California but wanted to register in Northampton County.
“I tried to register in Pennsylvania, and they didn’t accept my signature, so I registered in California as default,” Ho said.
When it comes to informing students about the election, Denison said the university isn’t doing enough.
He said they only send out two emails through the political science office — one telling students to register to vote and the other saying election day is coming up.
“If you don’t run into anyone who is talking about these elections, then those are the only ways you will hear about it,” Denison said.
Brose said in collaboration with the College Democrats, Community Service Office and Student Senate, the Student Political Action Coalition is trying to create a round-table discussion, an event where professors could speak on issues and students could ask questions.
“We hope to provide a space where students can get reliable information about the issues in this election,” Brose said.
She said even though this isn’t a presidential election, local, county and judicial elections can still affect the political climate at large.
Colón said the City Council is the race students will be most affected by since they pass and create laws that affect the city. They also decide how they want to budget different programs and resources for different parts of the city.
This council passes local budgets which include any potential tax increases. They also approve certain resolutions, which can include developmental projects. They pass local laws and certain rate increases, including water rates.
Colón said the turnout for local elections is traditionally lower, even though local elections are “the most important.”
But some students are registered in their home states, like Casey Conboy, ‘24, who is voting in New Jersey.
She said her decision to vote at home is because it’s where she plans to live after Lehigh.
“I plan to go back home to New Jersey and live there for the next few years,” Conboy said.
Colòn said voting typically takes place during May and November, and students should consider registering locally if they want to have an impact on where they are living during the school year.
“I would encourage everyone to actively be involved at the ballot box on election day,” Colón said.