On noon Tuesday Nov. 4, the atmosphere outside the Litzenberger House on Fourth Street, one of three polling places near Lehigh’s campus, resembled a carnival, a grocery store check-out line and a political rally all in one.
Over 120 Lehigh University students and Bethlehem residents waited to vote in a line that began at the eight-story apartment house’s glass doors, curved along the pathway and spilled on the sidewalk.
A singer strumming his red guitar serenaded the crowd while a mariachi trio warmed up nearby. People wearing campaign buttons passed out pizza slices, pretzels and pamphlets.
The food and entertainment were appreciated by voters who waited an estimated one to three hours to cast their ballot.
Celinda Stanton ’11 wandered along the line offering pretzel rods from a large tub under her arm.
“I’m with Students for Barack Obama and the Obama campaign,” she said. “We are here to make sure the people are comfortable while standing in line.”
She and Morgan Christopher ’10, the director of Lehigh’s Students for Barack Obama chapter, had passed out food to hungry voters since 6:30 a.m. and planned to continue feeding people until the polls closed. As of 12:45 p.m. Tuesday, voters had consumed approximately 20 boxes of cheese pizza, 10 cases of water and several boxes of munchkins.
The students’ involvement—whether by waiting to vote or passing out food—shows that they have accepted their civic responsibility, said John Smeaton, Vice Provost for Student Affairs.
“I have been pleased with the level of energy and engagement exhibited by Lehigh students surrounding the political process this fall. I think they realize that the choices made today will affect them well beyond graduation,” Smeaton said.
Many more people voted this year than in 2004, Will Brehm ’08 said. During the last election, he waited only 10 minutes to vote at Litzenberger House. This year, he arrived at 7:30 a.m., hoping to beat the rush of students, but he found himself waiting one hour with more than 60 others, many of whom were students.
“There appears to be an intensity among student voters that has been absent in recent presidential campaigns,” noted Rick Matthews, department chair and Distinguished University Professor of political science.
“Assuming there is a large turnout among students, it is imperative that they perceive the result—regardless of who wins—to be legitimate,” Matthews said. “If there is even the appearance of widespread voter fraud and ‘a stolen election,’ I fear a generation of young voters will be alienated from politics and no longer want to participate as citizens.”
The Litzenberger House was one of three locations where students may have registered. Brightly colored chalk arrows beginning at the top of campus pointed to Rooney Senior Center, one of the other voting locations. St. John’s Windish Evangelical Lutheran Church was the third.
The Class of 2011 sponsored a yellow school bus that ran from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. between the Litzenberger House and four different locations on Lehigh’s campus, Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity, the Newman Center, Drown Hall and Brodhead Avenue/Alumni Memorial Building. The shuttle service was co-sponsored by the College Republicans, College Democrats, Delta Tau Delta Fraternity, the Association of Student Alumni (ASA) and the Classes of 2009, 2010 and 2012.
At the stops, food and music entertained students.
“Anything to stir up enthusiasm for voting,” says the class president, Brian Cohen ’11, on his way to the polls.
Those looking for a ride during the day could take one of two seven-passenger vans, running every half hour to all three polling places. Alex Kadis ’10, assistant director of Students for Obama, organized the Voter Vans
. The vans began running at 7:30 Tuesday morning and stopped when the polls close.
“Our main goal is to give students no excuse not to vote,” Kadis said.
Students, such as Earl Pape ’12, did not take either the vans or the bus to the polls. Originally from Ohio, Pape voted by absentee ballot for both the Republican primary and the general election.
Other students, however, decided to cast their ballots in person rather than in their home states. Both Anthony Baker ’09 and Katya Kuttner ’10 preferred endure the wait and vote in a swing state than in their home states of New Jersey and Washington, respectively.