Election night 2020

Poll from across Athens County workers lugged ballots into the Athens County Board of Elections Tuesday night. Photo by Ben Peters

While Republican President Donald J. Trump clinched Ohio by several points for a second time, Democrat Joseph R. Biden won Athens County with a narrower margin than Democrat Hillary Clinton did in 2016, suggesting the president may have picked up more support in the years since.

Biden walked away with 56.5 percent of the vote compared to Trump’s 41.8 percent. Trump lost the county to Clinton by 16.9 points in 2016 and only 14.7 points to Biden this cycle, though the final margin could change once outstanding provisional and absentee ballots are counted.

Athens County historically votes overwhelmingly for Democrats and is often referred to as an “island of blue in a sea of red” since all of its surrounding counties rarely vote Democratic in presidential elections. As of The NEWS’ 2 a.m. print deadline, that adage remains true. The next President of the United States was not yet determined at time of publication.

Other noteworthy races in the county included the race for judge of the Athens County Court of Common Pleas, Probate and Juvenile Division. Zachary L. Saunders beat Kenneth E. Ryan in a nearly 20-point landslide, forcing Ryan out of the judgeship weeks after Gov. Mike DeWine appointed him to the position following the death of longtime Probate Juvenile Judge Robert Stewart.

Incumbent Republican Steve Stivers was winning the race for Ohio’s 15th Congressional District in a nearly 20-point landslide with an estimated 10 percent of precincts outstanding at time of publication. But Democratic challenger Joel Newby, an Ohio University graduate, won Athens County, which is almost entirely encompassed within the district, by 15 points.

Incumbent State Representative Republican Jay Edwards beat Democrat Katie O’Neill in the race for the 94th House district in a 20-point landslide. O’Neill, however, won Athens County by about 11 points.

Athens County also inched out its final 2016 voter turnout with 25,100 of the county’s 39,342 registered voters casting ballots — a turnout of 63.8 percent. In 2016, 62.8 percent of voters turned out.

There are, however, about 6,000 fewer voters in the county compared to 2016 when there were more than 45,000 registered voters. (It’s always an open question in Athens County races how many registered voters actually live here, since OU students who register but graduate and move away stay on the rolls for a period of time.)

In 2012, the county had 58.52 percent turnout, with 28,008 ballots cast out of 47,858 registered voters. In 2008, turnout was 64.54 percent, with 31,645 ballots cast out of 49,034 registered voters.

Turnout in precincts that primarily encompass OU student housing was remarkably lower than in 2016. One precinct at the Baker Center polling location, Athens 1-4, saw more than 800 ballots cast in 2016, but a staggering total of only 29 votes on Tuesday.

There are likely a multitude of reasons for this disparity. For one, there’s only a fraction of OU students living in dorms because of the university’s response to the pandemic. Some may also have voted absentee, either by mail or in-person, or cast provisional ballots. Anecdotal evidence suggests that others likely voted in their hometowns in other counties.

Considerably low turnout in student precincts could explain, at least in part, why Trump’s Athens County margin was smaller than in 2016. College students are historically a reliable voting bloc for Democrats.

Lines at Baker Center — and several other polling locations across the county — were virtually nonexistent the entire day save for a few early in the morning when polls first opened.

More than 15,000 registered voters in Athens County cast their ballots early either through the mail or in-person this cycle, reaching more than half of 2016’s final turnout of 28,560 ballots cast.

About 40 percent of registered voters in Athens County cast their ballot early this year.

According to data from the Athens County Board of Elections, more than 10,100 registered voters requested their ballots in the mail to either be mailed back or placed in the drop box outside the Board of Elections once completed — more than double the number requested in 2016 (4,200). Though it’s not clear exactly how many requested ballots were returned in either election.

Since early in-person voting began on Oct. 6, more than 6,200 voters cast ballots at the Board of Elections (about 39 percent of the total early votes cast), only slightly more than the 5,800 who did so in 2016. Those who cast in-person ballots in 2016 made up the majority of early voters that year.

A few hundred ballots were also sent this year from nursing homes, military overseas or handed directly to the Board of Elections. 

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