The 2019 general election marked the lowest voter turnout Athens County has experienced in six years.
Athens County saw a turnout of about 25.79%, with the numbers dipping even lower in the city of Athens. The city saw a voter turnout of about 17.04%, and even more specifically, the city’s First Ward on the west side saw an even lower turnout of about 12.04%.
Turnout hasn’t been that low since the county saw about 17% turnout in 2013.
Voter turnout is calculated by taking the number of people who voted and dividing it by the number of registered voters. Athens County has about 40,919 voters compared to the city, which has about 15,795.
Debbie Quivey, director of the Athens County Board of Elections, said this outcome wasn’t unusual to her because voter turnout is usually this low for off-year elections that only have local races on the ballot.
“Every election is unique. You don’t know what is going to bring someone out,” Quivey said. “It's very hard to judge before an election what the voter turnout is going to be.”
Voter turnout fluctuates from year to year based on a number of factors, like competitiveness of the races, controversial issues and whether federal and statewide offices appear on the ballot. Usually, off-year elections like 2019, which was highlighted by the Athens mayoral and Athens City Council races, are expected to have low turnout.
Quivey has overseen many elections in Athens County and said it is normal for elections like 2019 to see a lower voter turnout in the city of Athens compared to the county. In the city, some of the races went uncontested.
Quivey thinks another factor that contributed to low voter turnout in Athens was student voter turnout. She said that is because there are no federal elections. The voting precincts that correspond to the dorms on campus did in fact have some of the lowest turnout numbers in the city.
The precincts that vote in Ohio University’s Baker University Center include all of West, South and East Green, excluding Voigt Hall and Bromley Hall. Students in those two dorms vote in the First Presbyterian Church, 2 S. Court St.
All of those precincts saw a turnout of fewer than 7%, with one precinct only getting about 1.15%. That is 17 people out of the 1,125 who are registered to vote for the precinct.
Another voting block that was crucial to the 2019 general election were renters in the city of Athens. That group was often cited as the majority of Athens residents, and it was heavily targeted by independent candidates Damon Krane, Ellie Hamrick and Chris Monday.
A large portion of renters in Athens are either students, west side residents or both. The west side, which is contained mostly in the First Ward had mixed turnout by precinct but also saw turnouts as low as 1.44%.
Krane, who ran against Democratic Mayor Steve Patterson, lost by a margin of 2,075 to 571 votes, while Hamrick and Monday received only about 7% each in the race for an At-Large City Council seat.
“I think the stakes and the choice was just so clear in this election. Patterson was so clearly the candidate of landlords,” Krane said. “In a city where 80% of the population are renters, it is my assumption that a very small portion of those renters turned out to vote.”
Krane said he was shocked the turnout was so low for Athens County because the county got similar turnout in 2015 when Patterson ran for mayor in an uncontested race.
The turnout in 2015 was even higher at 36.82%.
Patterson said that he thinks a good chunk of the permanent residents came out and voted in this year’s election. He said while this number is hard to estimate, he thinks it could be anywhere from 6,000 to 8,000 of the 23,832 residents, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
“(Low turnout) is typical. I’ve been doing this since 2011, and I’ve seen the peaks and troughs,” Patterson said. “When we really see voter turnout is during a presidential or gubernatorial election.”
While the 2019 general election’s turnout total may have been low for Athens County, this doesn’t necessarily mean anything about future elections.
Quivey noted that the 2018 midterms saw a large turnout that she said was comparable to a presidential year, and she is expecting to see higher than normal turnout in 2020.
The 2018 midterms turned out 51% of registered voters in Athens County, and the last presidential election in 2016 got over 60%.
Quivey said that this election was a testing ground for the new renovations and equipment the Board of Elections received earlier in 2019, and she feels they are prepared for a large voter turnout in 2020.
“Next year, there is a lot of controversy over who is going to be running, and I think next year is going to be one of the biggest years that we have seen in an election,” Quivey said. “I’ve been here for 27 years, and I’m thinking this might be our biggest one.”