How can we improve voter participation in Mansfield and Richland County?
That's the question we have asked ourselves in recent months at Richland Source. In last November's general election, which included a Mayoral race in Mansfield, voter turnout in the county was just 25 percent. In the 2019 primary, it was 11 percent.
Looking back over the past decade, the only time Richland County topped 50 percent was during presidential elections -- and that was 66 percent in 2016.
Rather than just navel gaze, Richland Source wants to see what can be done to improve those figures. Toward that end, we sought -- and were awarded -- a grant from the national Solutions Journalism Network in an attempt to "Boost the Vote."
The $4,000 grant is part of the network's "Renewing Democracy" initiative.
We will study where voter turnout is working better -- in Ohio, other states or even other countries. What is being done in those locations to spur this civic participation? What lessons can be learned and applied here, and other areas as well?
Why Boost the Vote?
A population disconnected from its elected leadership often reveals itself in low voter turnout during elections. We believe Mansfield and Richland County have positive momentum -- and it's crucial that local residents are engaged and participating.
Ohio is a state that offers many paths to vote. Early voting begins a month before Election Day. Citizens can register to vote online, though the deadline to register is a month before Election Day. Any registered voter can request an absentee ballot and participate via mail. When voting in person, an ID is required, though it doesn't have to be a photo ID.
So what are the obstacles to voting? What are other cities, counties, states and/or countries doing differently?
Our early research shows there are five states with consistently high voter turnout, including Wisconsin, Colorado, Minnesota, Oregon and Maine. Same-day voter registration is a common theme, meaning citizens can register when they go to vote.
In countries like Belgium, Sweden and South Korea, voting participation is among the best in the world. What is the key to success in those countries?
We suspect that sometimes the reason for not voting is emotional -- general apathy about elections, not finding inspiration in any candidates or issues, not seeing a connection between the ballot box and their living room.
We spent a great deal of time last fall on "Talk the Vote," meeting with local residents to learn more about what they wanted to hear the candidates talking about.
We met with more local residents already this year in "Your Voice Ohio" sessions, focused on the issues they believed most important and discussing potential solutions for an improved community.
This is a presidential election year. Clearly, a busy time for candidates, voters and media outlets who cover them.
But we felt it's an issue that cannot wait. It's past time to "Boost the Vote" in Mansfield and Richland County.