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Junior Collin Gustafon, from Pennsylvania, registers to vote at the Athens Board of Elections on Court Street.

Out-of-state students weigh benefit of voting in Athens

Editors's Note: This story has been updated to reflect the version that appeared in our weekly print edition.

Correction appended. 

Every four years, Ohio is inundated with campaign events as politicians try to sway the swing state in their favor.

And with seven weeks until voters take to the polls, many out-of-state Ohio University students want to achieve the same goal by registering to vote in Athens instead of their home state.

A little more than a week after the first day of classes at Ohio University, the Athens County

Board of Elections had received about 2,000 voter registrations in a week, almost all of which were generated by student-run drives on campus.

“Presidential elections, there’s always an increase of voter registration and voter turnout is larger,” Debbie Quivey, director of the Athens County Board of Elections, said. “We are unique in the fact that we are what we consider a small-to-medium county in the state of Ohio and we do have such a large college campus here.”

Every four years before a presidential election, a chunk of those registrations are from out-of-state students or Ohio residents changing their address to Athens County, Quivey said.

With less than a month before the Oct. 11 registration deadline for the general election, nearly 43,000 people have registered to vote in Athens County, as of Friday.

In her nearly three decades of experience in Athens, Quivey has seen six presidential elections.

“I look for this to be a high turnout,” Quivey said. “I look for this to be one of the biggest elections I’ve been involved in.”

Do votes count more in Ohio?

“I wanted my vote to count,” Maya Holcomb, a freshman studying dance from Owensboro, Kentucky, said. “Especially in this election.”

Like Holcomb, many out-of-state students either plan on or have already registered to vote in Ohio for the November presidential election.

Athens has become a second home for more than 3,700 out-of-state students at OU, according to Fall 2015 university data.

The county’s Board of Elections does not officially keep track of students who register to vote in Ohio versus their home state, Quivey said.

“We’re one of 50 states but how people vote in Ohio very well may determine this election at the presidential level,” Katherine Jellison, OU history professor and former president of the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Athens County, said.

The impact of a vote in Ohio versus that of a vote in another state, Jellison said, depends on whether the state tends to lean a certain way politically. Many OU students, for example, are from Pennsylvania — another swing state — so choosing to register and vote in Ohio may not make as great an impact as voting from a typically blue state, such as New York, or a typically red state, such as Texas.

Sam Miller, president of the OU College Democrats, said she encourages out-of-state students to register in Athens

“We always kind of push them to vote here in Ohio because we are such an important state,” Miller, who is from Somerset, said. “If you really want your candidate to win, the amount of delegates you have from the state can really push them over the edge.”

While members of the OU College Democrats have recently spent much of their time registering students to vote, the OU College Republicans have focused on campaigning on the local race for the Ohio House.

“I am not really for people that live out of state registering in Athens,” David Parkhill, president of the OU College Republicans, said. “I think that Athens really doesn't belong to us (students). We’re here for four years and I don't think it’s really fair that we’re able to just come in and have our say and go back home.”

Parkhill, who is from Westerville, said the divide between the more liberal city of Athens and the rest of Athens County, which is typically more conservative, accounts for his view.

Jellison said students, regardless of their political affiliation, should not be discouraged by city or county leanings and cast their vote for the presidential race in November.

“If you’re living in Athens and you vote in Athens, the farther out from the local level you get, the greater impact your vote is going to have,” she said.

Options for out-of-state students

Miller said she has registered many out-of-state students and students have to be aware that they have to prove their residency.

“When it comes to form of identification, the state of Ohio makes it so that you need proof of address,” she said.

Unlike Ohio residents who can register with a driver’s license as a form of ID, out-of-state students need to prove their identification by other means.

To prove identification, out-of-state students need to provide the last four digits of their social security number.

Proof of identification is also required on Election Day, Nov. 8. Because out-of-state students cannot present an Ohio-issued ID, such as a driver’s license obtained in the state, they need to prove their residency. To do so, they would need an item such as a utility bill or an official letter from OU, Miller said.

However, when voting early in-person, students only need the last four digits of their social security number. Due to that reason, Miller said she encourages out-of-state students to cast their vote early.

Early voting begins Oct. 12 at the Athens County Board of Elections office at 15 S. Court St.

“Ohio counts more (in presidential elections),” Brie Boothby, a sophomore studying journalism from Fredericksburg, Virginia, said. “It’s more of a swing state than Virginia… and I don’t have to do an absentee ballot.”

Casting an absentee ballot, while still a viable option for out-of-state students or Ohio residents registered in another county, can often be difficult and less effective, Miller said.

“It doesn't really fit in with college students’ schedules because they already have to worry about so many other deadlines,” Miller said. “It’s so easy to blow it off because you just get so wrapped up in everything else you have to do, it can just slip your mind… I think it logistically makes more sense to register in Athens.”

How will Ohio vote?

Ohio has voted for the winner of the presidential race in 28 of the last 30 elections, Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball for the University of Virginia's Center for Politics and an OU and Post alumnus, said.

“I think Ohio is going to be important again,” he said. “What the demographics of Ohio can tell us is that Trump can probably do a little bit better in Ohio than he does nationally, but the state should probably still vote close to the national average.”

A Bloomberg poll released Sept. 14 showed businessman Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, leading former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president, by 5 points in Ohio.

Nationally, the two candidates are nearly neck-and-neck, according to the latest Real Clear Politics polls.

“Ohio, particularly this year, has a very outsized role,” Jellison said. “The general wisdom is any ‘get out to vote’ effort will benefit Democrats. There are more Democrats than Republicans in reality, but it doesn't count unless people vote.”

Lilli Sher contributed to this report.


Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Sabato’s Crystal Ball. The article has been updated with the most accurate information.

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