Voter turnout in Athens was down 3% from the last presidential election in 2016 with students missing from Ohio University's campus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Voters found methods to vote in a way that worked for them during this presidential election considering the strange circumstances. Students missing from campus made a large portion of Athens County residents diminish but the other residents showed up to vote.
In this year’s election, there were 39,342 registered voters and 25,100 total ballots cast, according to the Athens County Board of Elections’ results. About 64% of the total registered voters that participated in this election either in person on Election Day, in person early voting or absentee and mail in ballots.
In 2016, there were 45,418 registered voters and only 30,042 total ballots cast in the county. There was a 66.15% voter turnout for the 2016 election, according to the Athens County Board of Elections’ results.
“I think what we’re seeing is a dramatic drop off in student precincts,” John Haseley, chairman of the Athens Democratic Party, said. “Obviously there were not a lot of students around on Election Day that would have otherwise been here had we not had the COVID-19 pandemic. But at the same time, I think we saw some increases in other precincts that made up for some of it but not for all of it.”
When students returned during OU’s second phase, they only had a week or two to register to vote in the election. Many of the students had registered back in their hometowns for the primaries and did not know that they could switch and vote in Athens for the general election, Chase Conklin, a junior studying environmental geography and president of OU College Republicans, said.
“I think maybe some of the older people in Athens, they didn’t want to come out and actually vote on Election Day, which we saw voter turnout was terrible in Athens,” Conklin said. “Maybe they didn’t want to come out so they could have done absentee ballots or stuff like that and maybe they just didn’t know how to access getting that.”
Ohio voters are not used to absentee voting and this election was new to many of them. Having the option to not vote on Election Day could have confused voters with the many different ways to cast their ballots and the specific instructions needed to follow in order to not invalidate their ballot, Haseley said.
Considering all of the things that could have gone wrong with absentee voting if the voter had no experience, they should get credit for being informed on how to vote in a way that worked for them, Haseley said.
There is a large difference between the number of registered voters that show up for general elections and the midterms or primaries. Voters might feel like the president holds more power than the midterms do because they view the president as more powerful and the leader of the country, Conklin said.
Many voters could respond to what they see in the mainstream media. If voters see more action being taken before general elections because of the buildup of a possible change in president, then voters could be more interested in getting involved in that election. Things at the federal and presidential level get more attention in mainstream media as well, Haseley said.
“It’s always been disappointing to me that people don’t truly understand what affects them,” Haseley said. “Most are decisions made at the state and local levels and so they really should be focusing on those elections, even more than the national elections. It’s always been a curious thing to me.”