College Democrats and Republicans anticipate low voter turnout in off-year election, work to inspire participation

The Lantern
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Two yard signs for Franklin County Municipal Court judgeships sit dormant 10 days before an election decides who sits on the bench. Credit: Tom Hanks | Lantern Reporter

With just days until the Nov. 2 election, it may feel like the 2020 election cycle just ended.

While this year’s election will not decide the future president of the nation, it does feature several important issues that could have long-lasting effects on voters. There is a congressional seat up for grabs, along with a number of city and county-wide offices, as well as a ballot initiative which seeks funding for cleaner energy.

According to the Clark County Board of Elections , about 18 percent of registered voters participated in the 2019 election, an election where similar races were being decided.

Ronald Holmes, president of Ohio State’s College Democrats chapter, said turnout for off-year elections is historically lower than that of presidential or governor elections.

“Historically, we’ve seen a lot lower turnout in off-year elections than for presidential, or even-numbered years where the House and the Senate are on the ballot,” Holmes, a fifth-year in political science, said. “It just comes down to a lot more attention from voters.”

Holmes said burnout from the 2020 election has also contributed to apathy around off-year elections.

“Last year was a very major election,” Holmes said. “A lot of people called it the most consequential election of our lifetime, and people just tune out to recharge.”

Cal Ruebensaal, president of Ohio State’s College Republicans chapter, said he believes turnout is low due to a lack of media coverage.

“Local candidates typically aren’t able to make a presence in advertisements,” Ruebensaal, a third-year in mechanical engineering, said. “People who would stay home for these, but vote in others, aren’t exposed to it.”

Ruebensaal also said a lack of research by voters and engagement by candidates has contributed to off-year apathy.

“You get a lot of local campaigns across the state, but the difference is that there are communities that are more engaged than others,” Ruebensaal said. “A lot of people don’t do the research. They vote based on their emotions and on their heart.”

Holmes said the College Democrats have begun actively working to get people to vote in local races, hosting events where they invite local candidates to attend and engage with the community.

“When I was elected, one of the first things I dedicated my time to was elevating those local races,” Holmes said. “We’ve done a lot of work to get students throughout the year engaged and motivated.”

Ruebensaal said the College Republicans are also working to combat low voter turnout through community outreach.

“Low voter turnout is omnipresent through all local elections,” Ruebensaal said. “We’ve been knocking on doors, making phone calls and hosting voter registration drives — but phone calls are the easiest way to drive voter turnout because you’re letting people know that there’s an election going on and you’re able to give people information about the race.”

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