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Can tech help voter turnout?

Published by USC Bedrosian Center on

by Justine Dodgen

With the 2014 mid-term elections just over a month away, there has been speculation about voter turnout. In the 2012 Presidential elections, citizens ages 18-29 represented one-fifth (21%) of eligible voters. However, only 45 percent of eligible voters in this age group actually participated in the elections. (Circle) Although there has been an increase in voter turnout among youth in recent years, notably in 2008 and 2012, Millennials tend to sit out mid-term and primary elections. So what can be done to increase the number of young voters this election season? Over the past few years, many organizations have been seeking innovative solutions to this question through the use of technology and social media.

Earlier this year, Pew Research Center found that 83 percent of adults ages 18-29 own a smartphone. Americans now spend more time on social media than any other online activity, and 60% of social media time is spent on a smartphone or tablet. With over 74 million Millennials in the US, this demographic represents a significant opportunity for organizations seeking to engage youth around civic issues. The Bedrosian Center recently hosted Raquel Beltran, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles, for a discussion about how to increase civic engagement. The League has been at the forefront of recent efforts to engage young voters through technology and recently partnered with MapLight, a research organization that compiles data on campaign contributions. Together, they created one such solution to meeting Millennials on their own turf: Voter’s Edge, a website that provides users with simple, easy-to-navigate information about statewide and local elections and ballot measures based on the user’s zip code. Voter’s Edge also contains a feature that allows users to create a hypothetical ballot based on their choices and share it across social media. Another website, SeePolitical, has built off the appeal of viral videos by creating entertaining video clips to educate voters on ballot propositions that can be easily viewed on smartphones and shared on social media.

PublicCEO recently cited a study that showed that nearly half of Millennials are motivated to learn more about political or social issues based on information that see on social media, and more than half use social media as their sole platform for discussing political issues. As California Forward notes, “All it will take is one civically-minded member of a large social circle to fill out and share the ballot with his or her peers and suddenly an entire group is now thinking about how they would vote.” Websites like Voter’s Edge and SeePolitical have tremendous potential to target Millennials and give them a medium to voice their political opinions through social media, and ultimately generate an increase in voter turnout.

Big players in Silicon Valley are also recognizing the significant opportunity that technology and social media present to increasing civic engagement. Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster, has started a company called Brigade, a new social networking site that will engage people “on matters both big and national and small and local.” (Washington Post) The new site is driven to address the problem of voter apathy as well as to provide a platform for users to engage others in personal causes. This concept of a “civic network,” a social networking site devoted entirely to civic issues, goes one step further with the idea of utilizing social media to increase civic engagement, and if successful, has the potential to make civic participation a greater part of Millennials’ everyday lives.

With National Voter Registration Day taking place today, this week is a great opportunity for groups like the League of Women Voters or Rock the Vote, an organization that caters to young vote by using pop culture to inspire civic activity, to utilize sites like Voter’s Edge and SeePolitical and social media to increase voter registration and educate young voters about their local issues before the mid-term elections.

Thanks to organizations like these and the use of technology and social media to create a new platform for civic engagement, we may see not only a change in Millennials’ turnout on November 4th, but also a more civically active society.

Bedrosian Center