The Athens County Board of Elections Office
The Athens County Board of Elections Office (WOUB File Photo)

COVID-19 Brings Change to 2020 election in Athens County

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ATHENS, Ohio — The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything from how we go to school to how we eat at restaurants. The upcoming election is no different. Voters, candidates and officials are all adjusting in this new socially-distant world. 

John Anthonsen, who has lived in Athens for the past nine years, has had more time to research candidates since the pandemic began. Previously, he was able to hear about candidates through campaign events held at his former employer, Little Fish Brewing Company.

Little Fish Brewing Company Sign
Little Fish Brewing Company is one of several local businesses to lay off workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I actually have to work a lot of those events, so I might’ve been there,” Anthonsen said. “I might not have necessarily agreed with the candidate.” 

Anthonsen lost his job due to the pandemic and, like more than 500,000 fellow Ohioans, remains unemployed. 

“I watch a lot more TV now,” he said, adding that TV and social media are where he gets most of his information about candidates. “I never used to watch TV, but now it’s half of what I do.” 

Candidates and their volunteers are also changing the way they reach voters. The Athens County Democratic Party is tailoring its election strategies to a more pandemic-friendly format. 

Andrea Reik, a volunteer for the Democratic Party in Athens, said the party is using a variety of methods to reach voters. “We have Facebook, texting, Instagram,” she said. “We are using Hustle, which is a peer-to-peer texting format. We are writing tons of postcards.”

Reik added that not everything is going digital. Yard signs are also making a comeback this election season. 

Volunteers with the Democratic Party in Athens County report a growing interest in yard signs in 2020.

“We’re seeing it in Athens County,” she said. “People from all over the county are coming in for Biden-Harris signs, and we’re letting them leave with other candidates as well, so it’s a good thing.” 

The Democratic Party has also opted to go big with billboards.  

“We’ve worked with Buckeye State Rural who are doing large billboards that say vote Democrat, protect your healthcare, protect education,” Reik said. “We took a step further; we have smaller yard signs that have the same message.” 

But people displaying these signs are facing backlash.

“We’ve noticed this year our voters are coming in that have had yard signs,” Reik said. “They are being destroyed, they are being removed [and] they are being run over.” 

However, not all candidates are sticking to yard signs and virtual outreach. Local Republicans are using a mix of virtual and in-person campaign methods. 

Chase Conklin, president of the Ohio University College Republicans, said although similar to past years, there have been adjustments made in light of the pandemic. 

A typical year would mean parades and county fairs for the young Republicans to reach out to voters personally. 

“Obviously we can’t be out, intermingling with people as much,” he said, adding that the group is still calling voters and helping people register to vote. 

“We’re doing door-to-doors in some areas,” he said. “We know some of the areas, the constituents and the voters, are not really going to be acceptive toward us going door-to-door during a pandemic.”

Trump-Pence Yard Sign
Local Republicans have continued to use a mix of phone calls and door-to-door canvassing to reach voters.

The decision to canvas neighborhoods this year, Conklin said, came from state and national leaders.  

“It was basically the whole [Ohio Republican Party] and [the Republican National Committee], it wasn’t on a campaign or candidate basis,” he said. 

Of course, the Democratic and Republican parties aren’t the only ones making adjustments before Election Day. The Athens County Board of Elections is changing a few things, as well. One of the most impactful for Election Day? Polling location changes for Athens County voters.

First, the Ohio University Innovation Center on West State Street will not be a polling location this election, per a decision by the university. Instead, residents who have previously voted at this location should go to either the office of OhioMeansJobs for Athens County at 510 W. Union St., Suite 102, or to the Athens branch of the county’s public library at 30 Home St. Voters are always able to check where they are voting at the Board of Elections website. 

Next, the First Presbyterian Church at 2 N. Court St. does not meet social-distancing requirements. Voters should instead head to Baker Center on OU’s campus at 1 Park Place. 

Finally, because St. Mary of the Hills Catholic Church in Buchtel does not meet social-distancing requirements, voters should vote at The Shop at 17808 N. Akron Ave. in Buchtel. 

Debbie Quivey, the director of the Athens County Board of Elections, said anyone with a new polling location will receive a card in the mail. 

The Board of Elections will take other precautions, as well.

“When you walk into a polling location, we’re going to have a hands-free sanitizing station,” Quivey said. “You are going to be required to wear a mask in the voting locations.” 

Voters will also receive a packet with a stylus pen for signing in and voting, wipes and an “I Voted” sticker.

In 2020, absentee ballot requests in Ohio have doubled since the last presidential election in 2016.

But Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced in late September roughly 1.8 million Ohioans had already requested absentee ballot applications from their county boards of elections.

For John Anthonsen, voting is usually just part of his Election Day routine. He goes to his polling place, votes, grabs a donut and his “I Voted” sticker, then heads to work. But this year, he is one of those 1.8 million Ohioans who plans to vote absentee. 

“Filling something out and mailing it in is a little bit weird,” he said. “I might make donuts when I fill it out. Like, I’m voting. Make my own sticker.”