Hack the vote: There's an app for that
We are watching this political season play out on social media – from Facebook to Instagram and Snapchat. Is this transition to more social media engagement the key to getting the young vote – or, at least – activating more young voters?
On Wednesday, March 2, KPCC senior politics reporter Mary Plummer joined a panel of tech innovators at Cross Campus Pasadena to discuss how technology, social media and apps can help engage more young voters and #HacktheVote.
Apps for voting engagement
Hunter Scarborough, co-founder of the Voter app, opened with a bold statement: The average person’s attention span is eight seconds – less than that of a goldfish. Voter embraces this by acting as a “Tinder for voting”: users swipe left and right on issues, and the app matches their positions to candidates. Scarborough hopes that by making the process quick and simple, he can “respect audiences by respecting their time.” Voter leverages civic data about candidates’ political positions, and it is looking to grow more transparent when it comes to how it matches this data to its users’ experience.
Sumi Parekh, director of government relations and outreach for the Ballot app, said she aims to put the focus on local elections and to get more people to vote at the city and county level. “Low voter turnout does not mean voters are apathetic,” she said. Ballot was designed to make municipal election information more accessible; it asks its users a series of policy, process and demographic questions, and it then identifies local candidates matching those positions. The app also makes the voter policy responses available to candidates and policymakers so that they can better understand the positions of their constituents.
Bringing immigrant communities into the culture of voting
Tanzila Ahmed, campaign strategist at 18MillionRising.org, explained that for many immigrant communities (including the Asian American communities for which she has done voter engagement work), there is an educational and cultural gap for people new to the voting process. One of the biggest barriers is language. Los Angeles County’s voter ballot is translated into nine languages (the most translated in the country), Ahmed said, but still does not cover many of the languages spoken in the area. Ahmed’s organization is working on VoterVox, an app that would connect eligible voters with multilingual volunteers to help provide voter information in language and in culture.
Juan Vasquez, a communications and data analyst working with the Mayor's Operations Innovation Team, further stressed the importance of making voting relevant for newly naturalized citizens. "I've had more immigration statuses than Baskin-Robbins has flavors," he said. He went on to stress the importance of tying voter participation to the so-called immigrant story.
Creating media for a youth audience
Nate Kaplan, founder of SeePolitical, said young people want to want to participate, but “they don't know how and don't want to make an uneducated decision.” He further explained that they expect content to come to them digitally and “they don't want to spend hours translating legalese.” SeePolitical produces short animated videos that explain the electoral process and makes them accessible on mobile devices. Kaplan works with students from Otis to make these videos engaging and easy to understand.
Oscar Menjivar, founder of TXT: Teens Exploring Technology, works primarily with youth ages 14–21. He agreed that educating youths about the voting process was key, adding, “making the information accessible and at their fingertips is very important.” Menjivar found that young people received their political information primarily through social media, memes and YouTube, but that political candidates were rarely directly engaging youths through these channels. He was particularly critical of campaigns’ Snapchat efforts, noting their missed opportunities to take ownership of their own stories and messages.
For more of Plummer’s reporting on the role of technology in the voting process, check out: