Note: This story appears in the Tuesday, Nov. 5 newspaper on Page A1.
Today is the day.
Local residents might not be voting for the next president, but there are many important things on the 2019 General Election ballot in Athens County. From the Athens city mayor’s race to a handful (or more) of county levies, your votes today will make an impact.
So, what kind of turnout should we expect today? How will the turnout affect the results?
In the spirit of political punditry, here are some ideas about how Tuesday’s election will go. We’re not making any specific predictions as to which candidates will win, or which levies will succeed, but we’ll try at least to put today into context.
On this ballot
Here’s a fast rundown of the General Election ballot:
- Athens mayor and City Council races
- Nelsonville auditor and City Council races
- Six countywide levies and a county sales tax
- Contested school board races in Federal Hocking and Alexander districts
- Mayoral races in Chauncey, Albany and Glouster
- A myriad of township trustee races; township and village levies
- Coolville aggregation and Nelsonville cannabis ordinances
There are a few reasons in either direction that might point to turnout being decent or being quiet.
Before we get to those, let’s look at some similar election cycles in recent years:
This year had a pair of controversial statewide issues and contested school board races in all five Athens County districts.
The biggest of these was in Athens, with seven candidates vying for three spots. This election came amid the ongoing “community schools vs. mega schools” debate. By then, it was clear the Athens City School District would approve some kind of facilities overhaul.
Voters wanted to know: would candidates support rebuilding/renovating the existing properties, or go for one large school complex?
Despite this main storyline, three countywide levies and an Athens cannabis ordinance, the total turnout in Athens County was a paltry 27 percent.
This year saw contested City Council races in Athens and Nelsonville, along with a trio of contested mayoral races in Buchtel, Coolville and Glouster.
There were a pair of contested school board races, but no countywide levies.
A pretty quiet year, except for three controversial state issues on the ballot dealing with redistricting, ballot measure regulation and recreational marijuana. The latter item was a hot-button issue around Ohio that year, with around 3.2 million votes being cast. The issue failed by nearly a two-to-one margin against legalizing marijuana in the state.
Largely because of those statewide issues, turnout was better — almost 37 percent in Athens County.
Area voters had few reasons to scurry to the polls in this year.
There were a few contested school board races and an Athens City Council race, but that was about it.
Countywide turnout was a miserable 18 percent in 2013.
This is the last year with a contested Athens city mayor’s race.
Besides that, there were a few other contests in various villages and just one contested school board race.
Like 2015, the statewide issues were the turnout drivers. There were three in 2011: to raise the judge age limit; to repeal controversial Senate Bill 5, which limited public employee collective bargaining; and an issue to exempt Ohioans from national health care mandates in response to passage of the Affordable Care Act.
Turnout was 33 percent that year in Athens County.
Back to 2019 ...
It’s difficult to draw a close comparison between the 2019 election and any of the four “off-year” election cycles of the past decade. The noticeable absence of statewide issues is key, and the six countywide levies is an unusually high number for one ballot.
It seems clear turnout will be higher than the 18 percent in 2013, but will it reach the “off-year” high of 37 percent in 2015?
4 reasons why turnout
may be decent:
- 1. The big races in the city centers of Athens and Nelsonville will spur many voters to the polls. Athens has its first contested mayor’s race in nearly a decade, while Nelsonville residents have their local races plus a marijuana ordinance.
- 2. The six countywide levies (plus a sales tax), plus this being a township levy/trustee year, means that voters in every pocket of Athens County have at least something to cast a ballot for.
- 3. The League of Women Voters of Athens County has done an admirable job drawing interest into the 2019 election. The League hosted nine public forums in Athens, Stewart, Albany, Nelsonville, Amesville and Coolville featuring dozens of area candidates. Several other organizations hosted additional debates for the Athens city races as well. It seems logical that a more educated voting populace would be more apt to participate.
- 4. The weather isn't looking terrible for Tuesday. As silly as that seems, a day of bad weather can dampen turnout in any given year. (Writer's note: it's worth noting Tuesday's forecast, when checked over the weekend, had temperatures in the 50s and 60s with no rain. By early Tuesday, the forecast changed to be a bit more damp in the morning, and temperatures topping out around the high 40s. Weather forecasting and political forecasting are both fickle things.)
3 reasons why turnout
may not be so decent:
- 1. It’s not a presidential year, or even a mid-term year. Presidential, congressional and gubernatorial elections are easy drivers of turnout.
- 2. There are no statewide issues, which the numbers above show have an affect on bringing people to the polls. With these statewide races and issues comes a flood of TV advertising — while annoying, ads draw peoples’ attention to the election and can influence better turnout. This year’s turnout will have to be solely driven by local interest. Yes, America seems more tuned-in to politics in the Trump era, but whether that will translate to village levy votes remains to be seen.
- 3. There are few other “big ticket” items on the ballot, such as a major school levy or a controversial school board race.
This reporter’s guess as to the 2019 General Election turnout in Athens County? A modest, but adequate 32 percent.