Lafayette voter turnout soars above national average in 2020 election

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Numerous students who registered with the help of Landis cast their ballot at the Kirby Sports Center in Tuesday’s municipal elections. (Photo by Caroline Burns ’22)

Trebor Maitin, Staff Writer

In the lead-up to Tuesday’s municipal election, the Landis Center and its Lafayette Votes political engagement arm announced an 82.9% turnout rate by Lafayette students for the 2020 election, exceeding the national collegiate average by nearly 13 points and beating Lafayette’s 2016 turnout by more than 20. Turnout among all eligible Americans slightly eclipsed 66% last year, according to Pew Research Center.

“I am very proud of the Lafayette Votes team and everyone at Lafayette for having the courage to add their voice to our political process,” Chelsea Cefalu, associate director of Landis, wrote in an email.

The statistics come courtesy of an annual study conducted by Tufts University and the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education. Other notable findings include a 91.2% registration rate and a 90.9% voting rate among registered students, the latter figure being a 29-point increase over 2016.

Cefalu chalks up such numbers to the changing political environment and the efforts of Lafayette Votes.

“One contributing factor is likely the unfamiliar political landscape and resulting uncertainty, launching an awareness of the political process and the importance of adding your voice to it,” Cefalu wrote. “I also think Lafayette Votes was a way to bring people together when COVID was keeping everyone apart. The pandemic pulled to the foreground the importance of community action and shone a light on social and economic inequities.”

The Lafayette Votes team continued their mobilization efforts into the 2021 election cycle, including a multi-day voter registration drive in the Farinon Student Center which resulted in the voter registration of 40 students, according to Cefalu.

“We are [also] working on a partnership with Easton City Council that will underscore the influence local politics has in the national landscape that we hope to finalize by the next fall semester,” Cefalu wrote. “[Furthermore], we are working with members of our Government and Law department and some community professionals to bring the PA Senatorial candidates to campus for either a debate or moderated discussion.”

Local politics were at the heart of Tuesday’s election, and students from around the country, some of whom registered with the help of Landis, made sure to get their votes in.

Aliana Mediratta ‘25 of California, who switched her registration to Pennsylvania “because [it] has a closer margin between the parties,” voted in her first general election on Tuesday.

“I voted on Tuesday because I think that voting is always important, but also because I know my vote has a higher chance of making an impact,” Mediratta said. “Local elections may seem less important, but really, it means you have a greater ability to make an impact, which I think is super cool.”

Jillian Updegraff ‘22, who, like Mediratta, cast her ballot at Kirby Sports Center, shared that sentiment.

“I feel that voting, when given the opportunity, is critical, as it provides a mechanism through which young people can engage with the political system in a constructive manner. I think the last election really showed that,” Updegraff said. “College-aged voters are often criticized for their turnout at the polls, so I always try my best to take the time out of my day to cast my ballot.”