Patient reporters burst into the newsroom last night with the final election results as the news section worked hard to update The Post’s readers with the results of Election Day as quickly as possible. The results revealed not only the winning candidates and status of issues, but also that Athens County had the largest off-year election turnout of this century. Younger voters will vote in off-year elections, but they need to feel there is a purpose to their vote.
Off-year elections refer to elections that are neither presidential or midterm election years. These ballots are often more local and issue-based, as there are no scheduled congressional or presidential elections. These years typically have the smallest voter turnout or percentage of registered voters.
According to the official results from 2022, voter turnout was at 49.58% in Athens County for last year’s midterm elections. For November 2023, voter turnout was at 47.03%. This is an impressive turnout, especially considering this was the largest off-year turnout for Athens County in the 21st century. Since 2000, the average voter turnout in Athens for off-year elections is 29.22%.
There are patterns in who votes. A study from the Pew Research Center examining voter turnout from 2018 through 2022 found white Americans were more likely to vote than adults of other racial backgrounds. Turnout was also higher among those with some form of college education. Alternatively, 18-29-year-olds had only one-third of the turnout of other age groups.
Unlike many other off-year elections, this year had two statewide issues that a large number of Ohioans were familiar with. The last off-year election with statewide ballot measures was 2017, when Marsy’s Law passed, granting rights to crime victims, and an effort regarding prescription drug pricing failed. It is inferable that these issues, although important, did not attract young voters the way this year’s election did.
College students are more likely to make time for the polls when abortion and marijuana are on the ballot. While data is not yet available for this year’s voter demographics, messaging for Issues 1 and 2 was abundant on campus. Chalk messaging both for and against Issue 1 dyed sidewalk squares, often quickly washed out by passing water bottles. People knew about the election and people talked about it.
Off-year elections can generate higher voter turnout if voters feel it is worth their time. While not every election is going to include weed or reproductive debates, the same methods for getting the word out can be used. Widespread education about upcoming issues encourages voter turnout, especially when that awareness brings a personal connection to the issues. Higher voter turnout is possible no matter what is on the ballot, but the hard work needs to be done in advance of election day.
Editorials represent the majority opinion of The Post's executive editors: Editor-in-Chief Katie Millard, Managing Editor Emma Erion and Equity Director Alesha Davis. Post editorials are independent of the publication's news coverage.