Editor, The Messenger:
Athens County’s early voting site should be on Ohio University campus. Ohio University students and city of Athens residents are understandably concerned about the potential relocation of the Board of Elections from the city center (“Officials still considering elections board move,” Jan. 13, 2019).
To ensure all students have access to the ballot, OOU leadership should work with the Board of Elections to establish an on-campus early voting location. The Athens County Board of Elections plans to move because it needs better parking and more space to house voting equipment. Most important, the current office is not accessible to many people with disabilities, a violation of state and federal law that effectively bars citizens from fully exercising their sacred right to vote.
Board officials should secure a location that is convenient, accessible and works to expands access to the ballot — not restrict it. The Board should use this opportunity to designate an alternative location in the county as the early voting site. An examination of early in-person voting data from the 2016 and 2018 general elections shows an overwhelming two-thirds of those ballots cast were from the city of Athens.
The eight precincts that contain OU dorms far exceeded the county average for early in person voting and had the largest difference in turnout between the 2016 and 2018 elections. This suggests that OU students are likely to vote early in-person at a much higher rate in presidential elections.
A relocation of the early voting site could have devastating impact on student participation in 2020. County officials should look no further than to Ohio University’s campus for an early voting location in Athens that is accessible to people with disabilities, centrally located and has plenty of parking. Last year, Florida officials created early in-person voting sites on at least nine campuses statewide, leading to thousands of students — and other voters who appreciated the central location — to cast early ballots.
If the Athens County Board of Elections moves its offices, county officials should require it to keep an early voting site in the city center. Ohio University’s accessible, centralized, and convenient location would benefit all voters.
State Director, All Voting is Local