Many Ohioans still lack broadband access. That could hurt voter engagement.
Nearly a million Ohioans don’t have access to broadband, and that could hurt voter turnout in those areas.
Rural areas lagged behind urban ones in voter turnout in the 2020 presidential election. In Ohio, less than 50% of voting-age residents cast their ballots in Holmes and Athens counties, for instance.
A recentreport by the Population Health Institute suggests that could be because of a lack of access to civic infrastructure – like broadband.
“This is a democracy issue,” said Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio. “Now that we are very much a society that communicates online, every Ohioan needs to be able to have access to high speed internet.”
What’s the connection?
A high-speed internet connection isn’t needed to vote, but it is needed to know how to vote, Miller said.
Miller said the easiest way to register to vote is online. The same goes for finding out the deadlines for absentee ballot forms, checking the location of your polling place and viewing sample ballots.
Without internet connection, Ohio residents aren’t able to easily access this information.
“If individuals cannot get online and get high speed internet to find out the new ID rules, or what the deadlines for absentee ballot requests are – those various things – it's going to be harder to participate,” Miller said.
Miller said it also extends beyond voting to the broader civic process. It can have an impact on voters’ ability to communicate with their representatives, for example.
“The easiest way to find out whose district you're in or how to contact your lawmaker is also online,” she said.
New voting restrictions
Ohio recently enacted new voter ID restrictions – which have been labeled as among the strictest in the country.
The law, which went into effect this month, requires photo IDs to vote and shortens the time frame for reception of mail-in ballots from 10 days to four.
Miller said that could have an outsized impact for Ohioans in rural areas, where mail leaves the county, and potentially the state, to be sorted before coming back.
She said the U.S. mail service isn’t as efficient as it was when the absentee voting process was developed.
“You have a situation where our mail services are slower and more of our communication or updated information about elections is online,” she said. “And those same individuals may be struggling with high speed internet access.”