© 2024 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Many Ohioans still lack broadband access. That could hurt voter engagement.

Voters cast ballots at the Franklin County early voting center in Columbus the weekend before the election in 2018.
Daniel Konik
Statehouse News Bureau
Voters cast ballots in Columbus the weekend before the election in 2018. Voting advocates fear voter turnout in rural areas is lagging due to struggles to accessing high-speed internet.

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?

The Population Health Policy Institute's County Health Rankings show a map of Ohio in different shades of green. The darkest shades represent lower voter turnout. They are concentrated in southeast Ohio and in rural areas.
University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute
The Population Health Institute's County Health Rankings show voter turnout across the state, with the darker shades of green representing lower rates of voter engagement.

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.”

Kendall Crawford is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently worked as a reporter at Iowa Public Radio.