COVID-19 health crisis encouraging record-setting turnout, says Political scientist

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COLUMBUS (WCMH) — One week ahead of Election Day, early numbers show record breaking turnout in Ohio. Secretary of State Frank LaRose predicts half of Ohio voters could cast their ballots ahead of Nov. 3.

At Ohio State, student-led organization OSU Votes has been focused on mobilizing young voters, many of whom are voting in their first presidential election.

“It just sets that precedent for the rest of their lives. It’s like, ‘OK, this is something you do.’ It’s the same way that I go to the doctor once a year, I go vote once a year,” said third-year student Jillian Finkel.

She explained many of her peers seem to be motivated to vote in the election.

“What’s interesting about this election year is that, despite all of the challenges that COVID may present to you getting to the ballot box, there’s this kind of resiliency where we really, really want to meet that challenge and be creative in the ways we get out the vote,” Finkel said.

Several days during early voting, OSU Votes organized a shuttle service from campus to the Franklin County Board of Elections where students joined long lines of voters waiting to cast their ballots at the Early Vote Center.

“These are records for early voting. I think most of the projections for voter turnout this year are off the charts,” said Dr. Nathaniel Swigger, an associate professor of political science at OSU.

The numbers released Monday evening showed more than 73,000 people have voted early in-person at the Board of Elections.

Another 422,000 have cast absentee ballots by mail or dropped them in ballot boxes. Statewide, early voting numbers are nearly triple the turnout from the same time in 2016.

Swigger explained high turnout elections historically benefit democratic candidates. However, this year both the health crisis and heightened anticipation appear to be influencing members of all parties to cast their ballots early.

“There’s also an unprecedented level of enthusiasm on both sides, Swigger said. “And when people get eager to vote, they’re going to want to vote as soon as they possibly can.”

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are jockeying for the lead in the state, as many polls show the two major party presidential candidates in a virtual tie.

Several politicians refute Ohio’s reputation as a swing state, pointing to Trump’s large margin win in 2016 and the makeup of the Ohio statehouse as proof of its Republican leanings. Others disagree because of the large number of unaffiliated voters.

“Many people, by not declaring a party, show that they’re willing to listen and vote for the best candidate,” said Dr. Suzanne Marilley, associate professor of political science at Capital University.

Both professors say Ohio will certainly still play a crucial role in the general election and voters will likely see ramped up campaign messaging in the final week ahead of Election Day.

“If your name is on a list, this is the week you’re going to be bombarded with text messages and phone calls as those campaigns try to turnout as many of their voters that they possibly can,” Swigger said.

The Early Vote Center will be open each day leading up to the election. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is noon on Saturday, October 31, but Secretary of State Frank LaRose recommends requesting one no later than Tuesday, October 27 to avoid potential delays.

Find a list of early voting hours and deadlines by clicking here.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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