When you think of the term ‘voter suppression’, you may think of Georgia Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp sending broken voting machines to precincts in Atlanta with a high population of people of color, or Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted purging voters from voter rolls. It’s hard to imagine something like this happening in the cute, liberal college town of Athens, Ohio, but after participating in an Athens County Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, I fear that will soon be a reality.
Space in a county-owned building on Campbell Street is becoming available, and the Board of Commissioners is weighing the possibility of relocating the Board of Elections, currently located uptown on Court Street, to that location. That means that students and community members would not have the ease of access to voter registration, early voting and of course, Pumpkin the Cat that they enjoy today.
That’s right. If the Board of Elections moves, so does Pumpkin.
The proposal seems to be picking up steam as we head into 2019, making the relocation of the Board of Elections a real possibility. If the Board of Elections moves and students no longer have access to the fantastic, impartial voter education and access to the ballot that they currently have, it is guaranteed that fewer students will register to vote and fewer students will early vote. For many students, including those students who live out of state – who have the constitutional right to vote in Athens – early voting is the only reasonable option available to them to vote. If the Board of Elections is relocated, these students will face an additional, unnecessary hurdle to engaging in the electoral process.
The main argument for moving the Board of Elections seems to be the fact that the Board is running out of suitable space to store voting machines. While I understand that this is a very real need for the Board, I believe that other options for storing equipment are available without moving the entire office to a new, inaccessible location.
In Ohio and across the country, the threat of voter suppression lurks around every political corner, and until now, Athens County has been a beacon of civic engagement and fair elections. Unfortunately, I left the meeting with a general sense of apathy from the Board of Commissioners, and I feel that the Board of Commissioners is not taking the possibility of unintentional voter suppression as seriously as they should. It is my sincere hope that the Board of Commissioners will maintain Athens County’s strong traditions of voter empowerment and democracy by rejecting this harmful proposal.
Dominic Detweiler is a junior studying sociology at Ohio University.