For the past two decades, most of Athens has voted for Democratic presidential candidates. Athens voted for Joe Biden (D) in 2020, Hillary Clinton (D) in 2016, Barack Obama (D) in 2008, John Kerry (D) in 2004 and Al Gore (D) in 2000.
In addition to voting blue for national candidates, Athens seldom votes for Republicans in local office.
DeLysa Burnier, a political science professor, explained that Democrats consistently run Athens' local government. She also noted that most votes within the county come from Athens City.
"By default, (Athens City is) able to carry the county, especially if we have high turnout on issues or on candidates," Burnier said.
Natalie Johnson is the Southeast Ohio organizer for ACLU Ohio. According to its website, the American Civil Liberties Union's mission is to "champion and expand constitutional and other fundamental rights and to pursue racial, economic, gender, and social equity for all Ohioans using all the tools of integrated advocacy without political partisanship." Johnson said Athens' status as a blue, rural county depends largely on student-voter turnout.
"In communities like Athens, where the college students make up 80% of the eligible voters, whether or not they vote is going to make a huge impact on the elections," Johnson said. "We know young people statistically tend to vote more progressive. So, a lot of that, I think, is what keeps Athens County and specifically Athens City such a blue stronghold."
Damon Krane, an Independent candidate for Athens mayor and a community organizer, said Athens County has historically voted progressively.
For example, in November 2004, an anti-same-sex marriage initiative appeared on the ballot. Ohio's Issue 1 aimed to define marriage as a union between "one man and one woman" in the Ohio Constitution.
Only one Ohio county voted no on the issue – Athens.
"Athens was the only one of 88 counties to vote against that horribly bigoted ballot measure," Krane said. "Athens has been a real outlier, even beyond just being the only blue county in Southeast Ohio, the only rural blue county, and a lot of that does reflect how progressive the population is."
As Burnier explained, Athens' willingness to vote no on Issue 1 in 2004 was a testament to progressiveness in the area.
"That speaks to the liberal commitments and values in the community," Burnier said.
As the election quickly approaches, there are two progressive measures on the ballot. State Issue 1 will address abortion and reproductive decision-making. State Issue 2 is a recreational marijuana legalization initiative.
Johnson, Krane and Burnier agreed that every vote will matter on Nov. 7.
Krane said that for students, voting for local issues and candidates is essential in making change.
"Athens is just a place where people are trying to rip off young people as much as possible, whether that's on or off campus," Krane said. "Young people can fight back against that, create a very different community by voting in city elections."
Johnson explained that college students should consider voting in midterms, not just presidential elections.
"It's really important that we are engaged in the process every year and not just in those presidential years because a lot of the major decisions are not being made by the president," Johnson said. "They're being made in our local townships, in our state legislature and even within the Congress."
As the political divide increases, Burnier said that voicing your opinion by casting a ballot is arguably more important than ever.
"You have to vote," Burnier said. "In the end, the country is so evenly divided now between the two parties, that makes it even more important that you get out and vote."