Election Day, July 14, is more than a primary. On the ballot for all voters, regardless of party affiliation, is the opportunity to vote yes on Question 1: “Do you favor a $15,000,000 bond issue to invest in high-speed internet infrastructure for unserved and underserved areas, to be used to match up to $30,000,000 in federal, private, local or other funds?” It is a question that speaks directly to equality and opportunity in Maine.
According to the ConnectMaine Authority and The Maine Broadband Coalition, 180,000 Mainers, or 13 percent of the population, have no or low speed access to the internet. Nationally, Maine is ranked 43rd for access to affordable high-speed internet service, according to BroadbandNow. This reality existed before the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Responses to the pandemic, including social distancing and stay-at-home orders have only increased reliance on high-speed internet services. Communities and households where broadband is unavailable or unreliable — in many rural areas or where service gaps exist in urban centers — are being left behind.
For Maine, high-speed internet service is critical to sustaining our communities, attracting and retaining new residents, growing competitive local businesses, providing access to critical healthcare services, and offering educational tools and skills for all children to succeed.
Now, during the current crisis more than ever, voting and civic participation is dependent on internet access to keep our citizens and election officials safe. Eligible voters can request an absentee ballot online and vote by mail or drop their ballots off at their town office, reducing in-person voting. Instead of in-person contact, election officials, political organizations and advocacy groups are expanding their use of the internet to inform and educate voters on changes to the election, how to vote, and candidates and issues.
Every year, civic engagement relies more and more on e-democracy — the use of internet technology in political and government processes. Voter services have been moving online, giving citizens more resources and choices. The internet enables an informed electorate.
Candidates and organizations can amplify their messages via social media. Voters can do online research on candidates’ donors, voting records, and positions on issues. E-democracy has advanced government transparency. Legislative processes, guides, laws, and government studies are available online. Constituents have easy access to their representatives via email and social media.
The 2020 Census was simplified and streamlined as an online process. But without internet access, Maine’s rural counties are lagging far behind the national average in response rate.
Since 1920, The League of Women Voters of Maine has fought to improve our government and engage our communities in the decisions that impact our lives. On May 16, the board of the League of Women Voters of Maine voted to endorse this position on “Yes on 1” with this statement:
“Efficient, high speed access to the Internet for all Maine residents regardless of geographic location or demographics is a necessity for assuring equal access to local and state government, for maintaining openness and transparency in government activities; for communicating with legislative leaders; for engaging in political discourse; for competing in the global marketplace; for providing full and equal access to education, commerce, and civic life; and for assuring that voters receive the information they need to participate in our democracy.”
Vote yes on Question 1 on July 14.
Anna Kellar is the executive director of the League of Women Voters of Maine.