Athens county early voting lower than past

Vice President Joe Biden speaks to locals of Athens and students of Ohio University at the Athens Community Center on Sept. 8. (Jason Chow | File Photo)

Ohio has proved to be a key battleground state in this year’s presidential election, and even Athens — a Democratic stronghold — has attracted political heavyweights for campaign visits.

Winning Ohio is one of the crucial victories that could decide the presidential election for either candidate, and both President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, have spent significant time campaigning in the Buckeye state.

Southeast Ohio has not seen as much attention as other areas of the state. The candidates, their running mates and spouses have made more than 100 campaign stops in Ohio, but only a handful have been to this region, according to The Washington Post.

Athens in particular has seen visits from Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Biden’s son Beau, Romney’s son Craig and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who all have made campaign stops supporting their respective candidates.

The small number of visits to Athens County is not surprising, said Susan Burgess, a professor of political science at Ohio University.

Other than Democratic Athens County, Southeast Ohio has generally swung Republican in the 2000, 2004 and 2008 elections.

“Southeast Ohio tends to be more conservative with the exception of Athens County,” said Pete Couladis, chair of the Athens County Republican Party.

“Candidates are spending a lot of time in medium markets with media coverage (like Athens) and, if Ohio stays undecided, they will return.”

Burgess said instead of discussing policies or a candidate’s political agenda, the main focus of the campaign visits is to ensure voters make it to the polls.

“In 2008, the 18–24-year-old demographic had the second highest turnout since younger people were allowed to vote,” Burgess said. “Whoever wins Ohio will theoretically put themselves in a position to win the election, so candidates travel to excite voters either way.”

During his speech on OU’s College Green two weeks ago, Obama encouraged attendees to vote and to encourage friends to fill out their own ballot.

“You’ve got to go back to your dorm, grab that guy who’s sitting there eating chips watching SportsCenter,” Obama said. “Tell him he’s got to vote, too.”

But the campaign stops may not have as strong an effect as during previous years.

There are 47,860 registered voters in Athens County for the upcoming election, according to the Athens County Board of Elections. Despite multiple visits from candidates, early voting numbers are down from 9,227 requested ballots in 2008 to only 7,665 this year, as of Wednesday.

“Four years ago, we were busy with students from the time we opened to closing with lines out the door,” said Debbie Quivey, director for the Board of Elections. “There is no student rush like that this year.”

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