Taking part in the democratic process of voting is looking a little different this year thanks to COVID-19, but amid the pandemic, there is one thing breathing life into the voices of the electorate: early voting. 

Under normal circumstances, this upcoming election would look the same as any other — polls filled with students and residents alike on Election Day. These are not normal circumstances, though, and for the time being, early voting is the new normal. 

As of Oct. 27, the Athens County Board of Elections office has received 14,844 ballots early, accounting for nearly 38% of the 39,342 people who are registered to vote in Athens County, according to the Board of Elections website. 

Voters are more fond of early voting this year than in years prior, but that comes as no surprise due to the pandemic. Four years ago, 10,465 people cast their ballots early, according to the Board of Elections website. From then to now, the number of early ballots has increased by about 42%, and about 11% of the electorate has voted early in this election.

Several political groups on campus — including Ohio University College Democrats, OU Moderates and OU College Republicans — have acknowledged that early voting is a great way for people to engage themselves in our nation’s democracy, especially during these times. 

“OUCD advocates for early voting to ensure that anyone who wants to vote, has the ability whenever they have time,” Elanor Skees, a junior studying political science and the president of OUCD, said in an email. 

She went on to mention that mail-in voting is both safe and secure. 

Brad Kennedy, a junior studying political science and the political director of OUCR, said the group has no official stance in terms of early voting but did offer a statement.

“Because of COVID restrictions, we encourage people to do whatever they believe is best to mitigate the spread of COVID,” Kennedy said. “(When voting), we just want people to do what they believe is best to stop the spread of any sickness.” 

Ellery Pollard, a junior studying English creative writing and the director of personal relations of OUM, said the group also does not have a concrete belief in relation to early voting.

“Our club tries not to have … very set stances on political issues,” Pollard said. “The point of our club is to have discussions on those views, so I think, generally, early voting is not a problem among our current members.”

As for the prevalence of early voters within these three groups, there have been some mixed signals.

“I do not have a concrete number (of members who voted early), but I know we have already had a handful of OUCRs vote early, may that be by absentee or in-person,” Chase Conklin, the president of OUCR and a junior studying environmental geography, said. “Personally, I’ve already voted in person.”

To the best of her knowledge, OUM has seen about half of its members vote early, Pollard said, including herself. 

“I personally mailed my vote because my hometown is in Tennessee, and I can't just drive to Tennessee any day of the week,” Pollard said, noting also that while there may be some discrepancies in members’ opinions of early voting, it’s a necessity for students who are a long way from home and have not registered in Athens. 

Skees was also unable to provide exact numbers regarding member participation in early voting, but she did offer an estimate. 

“Based on the discussion we have had with our members during our meetings this semester, as well as the number of posts on social media, it seems like a large majority of OUCD members have early voted in their district or sent in their mail-in ballot,” Skees said in an email. 

In part due to early voting, people are keen to participate in the democratic process this year to decide county issues, the next president of the U.S. and everything in between. 

“You need to do your civic duty,” Conklin said. “Go vote. We have many ways to do that. You just need to get out there and do it.”

@ryanlmaxin

rm554219@ohio.edu