Based on the current tally of all of the votes from the May 6 primary election in Athens County, three Athens city precincts had only a single vote tallied per precinct.
Each of the votes were cast by current students at Ohio University. The precincts directly correspond with OU residential greens. For example, out of 1,432 registered voter, sophomore Mira Cooper was the sole voter in Ward 1, Precinct 4, which contains most of West Green. She was a resident of Ryors Hall this past school year.
Cooper is also a current resident of Athens. She said she voted in person the day of the election in Baker University Center.
"It wouldn't surprise me if I was the only person who voted because I was the only one here, to be honest," Cooper said. "Most people moved out of the dorm the second their finals were done, but since I live in town, I never really left."
Ward 2, Precinct 1 - which contains much of South Green and East Green - also had a single student voter out of 954 registered voters. Ward 2 Precinct 5, which encompasses the back South Green area and some of the River Park/River's Edge student housing area, similarly had a single voter out of 1,031. As of the news deadline Wednesday, The Athens NEWS was unable to contact one of those two students, and the other declined to comment.
Katchy Hecht, city auditor and chair of the Athens County Democratic party, said that kind of turnout from students on-campus is "kind of to be expected" after the switch at OU from quarters to semesters. It puts the primary elections at a time when students either aren't in town or are too busy to vote. The vote occurred on May 6; graduation for OU was May 2-3 this year.
"It really should be something we should work harder at knowing that their schedules don't fit in with the primary," she said.
Hecht said another big problem with student turnout at local primaries is that it's hard to get them to care about the issues, especially in an off (non-presidential) election year.
Cooper agreed that many of her fellow classmates likely don't care about local issues by virtue of not living in Athens year-round, or possibly having hometown local issues that they care more about.
"I think that people have the idea that students control the vote in Athens, but it's not really true," Hecht said. "A lot of students are registered (to vote) where they live."
Pete Couladis, chair of the Athens County Republican Party, said student voter turnout with primaries in Athens is normally fairly small.
"It's summertime, and it's a low priority. It's not important to them," Couladis said. "Unless somebody's here beating them over the head with it… the interest isn't there."
Couladis said that lackluster student turnout is one of the reasons why campaigning can be expensive in Athens. He said students need to be hit with direct messages and appeals "for days and days and weeks" to galvanize them to vote.
Hecht said one big problem is that the information about how, where and when to vote needs to be made available each year, considering the new freshman class turnover at OU.
"It's a constant educational process. We have to make sure the information is getting out there every year," she said.
Cooper said another problem with student voter turnout is that high school government classes and information that targets students make voting seem like a burden.
"…having voting be 'taught' in school just makes it another tedious activity that students just don't want to do, so they end up not listening to and not remembering the information that they're given," she said.
Hecht suggested that students aren't well enough informed when it comes to options for voting. She said the registration process can be confusing.
On top of that, she said, "the process to go ahead and vote here, even if you didn't get registered to vote, is confusing." Provisional voting, as it's called, would allow students who are registered at an address in another Ohio city to vote in Athens regardless of whether they're registered to vote here.
Hecht said absentee ballots are another way to increase student participation at local elections, but that student knowledge of how they work is also limited.
Couladis said even when students have absentee ballots available to them, they simply don't care about local issues.
Cooper said the low turnout shouldn't be that suprising. "Apathy is the enemy of change and activism, but it's also true that once school lets out, many students just want to have a break from everything, and often, things that they don't find as much fun, like voting, will be lost to the wayside," she said.
Six other precincts within Athens recorded fewer than 10 votes - many of which correspond to either lightly populated areas of campus or areas where off-campus student housing is concentrated. For example, Ward 4 Precinct 4, which had four votes cast out of 965 registered voters, includes a small portion of East Green as well as Stewart Street and some of Mill Street, popular student neighborhoods.