When November 3, 2020 arrives, 16 million Americans will be voting in their first presidential election. For the first time, these newly minted voters will take part in a bedrock practice of our country, one that ensures a government reflects its citizenry.
Our founders envisioned a democratic republic, though imperfect at the time, in which every voter would be knowledgeable about our elected representatives and their daily happenings. This system relied on an informed electorate. To ensure a long-lasting and healthy democracy, voters, especially the newest amongst us, have a right to be informed about the candidates and issues.
However, at a time when the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has upended how and where voters get information coupled with the reality that over 20 million Americans still do not have reliable access to broadband, how can disconnected voters be a part of the informed electorate?
The pandemic is projected to last many more months, so we cannot continue with election preparations as normal. Before COVID-19, new voters without a deep knowledge of American democracy or politics could rely on educators and other trusted community members to provide the necessary background on our democracy. The closure of schools and other community institutions has removed this safety net. Now, with students, recent graduates, and other new voters operating from home, they are left to prepare for this election with the limited information and resources at their disposal. While those with the privilege of connectivity can turn to online resources such as vote.gov or rockthevote.org, disconnected populations cannot.
In a year when our local, state, and federal leaders are making consequential decisions about public health and the future of our nation, being informed is more important than ever. Yet, recent data revealed that approximately 15% of households with school aged children lack a reliable broadband connection. High school seniors and recent graduates make up the largest portion of newly eligible voters each presidential cycle, and this gap is detrimental to their preparation.
Those without broadband access are left to find information wherever possible, sometimes unable to identify unreliable or misleading sources. As a nation, we should not ask disconnected Americans to cast an under-informed vote.
Local, state, and federal election seasons are underway. Every voter deserves to be informed, not just about the candidates, but about the power of their vote. While this can be accomplished through other avenues, the internet provides the single greatest wealth of information that ranges from objective to opinionated and spans the political spectrum. The internet is the greatest tool today for voters to learn about and contribute to our democracy. Everyone should have the ability to access it.
With the future of the pandemic unknown, it is our duty to ensure an equitable access to reliable information for these new and impressionable voters. These are among the reasons why closing the digital divide must be a national priority. This gap among disconnected new voters can only be remedied by supporting connectivity and digital literacy programs. We will not close this divide through one simple solution, but must also invest in community outreach programs, technology adoption, digital and media literacy, and broadband deployment.
Over the next four months, voters will exercise their constitutional right, many for the first time. Some will visit polling stations while others mail-in their ballots. These new voters, whether they are students, graduates, new citizens, or simply voting for the first time, are voting for a better country. When they cast their ballot, it should be informed by every source possible, and we should take decisive action to close the digital and information divide standing in their way.