Report: Athens Residents Did Not Have Easy Voting Access In 2012 Elections

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A report by the Center for American Progress Action Fund ranked Athens County as one of the three counties in the state with the worst voter access.

The Center examined six factors for each county in Ohio and compared the results with the state average to determine how easily people were able to cast their ballots in the 2012 general election. Among these factors were the rates for provisional ballots, voter turnout and the rate of people who were taken off the voter rolls. 

According to the study, Athens County performed poorly in these three areas. The report states that Athens "had the worst rate of provisional ballots casts among the counties examined in the state."

Joshua Field, the Deputy Director of Legal Progress at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, said although provisionals would be a nice fail-safe mechanism it would not be a great way to vote. 

But Debbie Quivey, the Director of the Athens County Board of Elections did not agree. Provisional voting would allow people to vote again if they didn't get their addresses changed.

"How can that be a bad thing?", she asked. She also disagreed with the ranking in terms of the voter turnout rate.

"They have our voter turnout as 53.6 percent. I don't know where they got this number. Our turnout was 58.52 percent," she said. She explained that the Athens County Board of Elections would provide people the opportunity to vote but they have to be registered.

"We can't make these people vote if they don't register," said Quivey. She also emphasized that Athens County is a unique county, smaller but with a large university. That would make their numbers different from those in most counties.

The third factor on which Athens County got ranked for poor performance is the number of people that were taken off the voter rolls. Quivey said the reason for that was a change of registration vendors in 2009. As the Board of Elections was not sure if all the voters were pulled over correctly it decided to carry them longer and then got rid of them after the general election.

"Instead of giving us credit for carring people two to three years longer than by law we had to they criticized us for it," Quivey said.

Quivey stressed that she was very offended by the report and that she had wished the Center would have contacted her before releasing the results.

Field acknowledges that there might have been valid reasons for voters to be taken off the rolls, but he said the Center's intention was not to explain specific reasons behind the data.

"What we wanted to do is to look at those counties that stood out from the norm so that people could start asking questions on why a county performed so much different than the state average," he explained.

Having the results of the report he hoped law makers and people on the ground would start making decisions on how elections can be administered better.

The data that the center used for its calculations came from two sources, the United States Census and from a federal body called Election Assistance Commission. According to Bryan Whitener from the Election Assistance Commission data provided by the Commission is provided to them by the states. But Quivey said she did not know this institution or the data that was used. She also accused the Center for American Progress Action Fund of not having issued an accurate report becaue of a political agenda. An accusation which Field refuted.

Frederic Cady, Professor for Political Science at Ohio University, said the Center for American Progress Action Fund does have strong links to the Democratic party. He also said this report has to be seen in a bigger context.

"What I can see is that the access of being able to vote easily is part of a larger controversy," Cady said. Many states would have changed their electoral laws and that would have been a controversy between Democrats and Republicans. 

"The study that they did is looking at swing states and is sort of gathering information for the 2016 elections to see what's going on in Ohio and what the effect of these electoral laws is."