American voter turnout is not nearly high enough. This is partly because voter registration is completely voluntary. People have to go out of their way to register to vote and then they have to make arrangements on election day so that they do not miss their opportunity to vote. I feel as though the bulk of what I see on social media these days is citizens voicing their political beliefs, but I wonder how much is being done to enact actual change.

It may seem as though many people on social media are talking politics, but only about 64% of the voting age population was registered in 2016 and about 56% of the population cast ballots on Election Day (Desilver, 2018).With 89% of adults in the United States reportedly owning a smartphone (Poushter, 2016), there are political benefits to be utilized with these staggering numbers. Voting via mobile device may be the solution to narrowing this gap.

My idea is pretty simple. Everyone downloads the app, which would be monitored by the government. The app would have you authenticate your identity, similar to how we authenticate credit cards from our devices. On election day, you will be notified when the polls open and a user friendly interface will allow people to read up on all the bills, measures, and candidates they are voting for. This could be something that brings the voting process down to less than an hour, no one will have to take time off of work to find a voting location, everyone already has their phones with them. It would be a quick errand you could literally do while on the train, on a break, or in between meals.

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The idea comes from the amount of time people spend using social media. A study of smartphone ownership in emerging economies found that across 40 countries surveyed, an average of 76% of internet users also utilize social media such as Facebook and Twitter (Poushter, 2016). The website Buzzfeed posts surveys that people do for fun and share on social media. The most popular survey gathered the website more than 130 million views in 2013 (Grandoni, 2014). If those users can make sure to scroll through hundreds of Instagram photos every day, or finish dozens of Buzzfeed quizzes, it would make sense that they can scroll through some electronic ballots to vote on something meaningful.

Visibly reflected across social media platforms is the active political voice and engagement of many. Facebook and Twitter are cluttered with political discussions of many varying views and opinions. Many people read the news on these sites and begin engaging in conversations with other users in the comments. This discussion, as insignificant as it may seem, is still people participating in politics, at the most fundamental level.

Solutions to issues such as gun control, taxes, and various social issues can all be boiled down to who we as a people elect to represent us. This can also be in part to the inaccessible writing of the bills, laws, policies, and even candidates making it too confusing for the average voter to make educated decisions.

This amount of public interest is not something that is reflected in the polls. According to one study, there has been no correlation found between social media activity and actual voting, yet (Zuniga, 2016). The study did concur that there is a large trend of political discussions on these websites, but it did not support any evidence towards raising voting trends. Voting is simply not gathering the same amount of appeal as social media. These two things should aim to work together to increase political participation.

So, in 2016, while 89% of adults owned smartphones, only 56% of adults showed up to vote. These staggering numbers are clear evidence of a problem that needs to be addressed in the coming years. This is not an aim to force people to vote, just to raise the numbers. The discussion of low voter turnout is mentioned after every major election. Making changes to how people vote may increase these numbers and there are already plans in motion.

The plan to vote from a cellular device has been proposed already. In 2018, West Virginia is allowing military members serving overseas to cast their vote via a mobile app (O’Sullivan, 2018). The plan has received some criticism, however this is a step in the right direction. Private companies have already developed the apps that the voters can use and they have their own guidelines and security measures in place.

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In 2016, more than 5 Million Californians sent in absentee ballots (McDonald, 2017) demonstrating that alternative forms of voting are both utilized and effective. While I was in the military I had to send in my ballot months early because I was being deployed and there would have been no other way for me to vote. I knew many Sailors on the ship who did not even know how they were supposed to vote while we were underway. I take great personal offense to the idea of United States servicemembers who are unable to vote on the very elections that directly influence their lives.

While it is understood that various technological kinks would need to be worked out to prevent fraud and collusion, this is an idea that needs to be considered. It seems as though some people believe online political participation is going to somehow equate to results and this is just not the case, but it can be. By using our mobile devices as tools to participate in politics, we can actually make some real change from the palms of our hands.

 

 

Sources:

Desilver, Drew, 2018 “U.S. Trails Most Developed Countries in Voter Turnout” Factank, News in the Numbers, Pew Research Center, May 21, 2018. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/05/21/u-s-voter-turnout-trails-most-developed-countries/

Desilver’s article highlighted trends among voters in the U.S. as well as how they compare to voters in other countries. This article was chosen because it provided a more broad perspective on the understanding of the motivation to vote, rather than solely researching millennial trends.

O’Sullivan, Donnie, “West Virginia to Introduce Mobile Phone Voting for Midterm Elections” Aug. 6, 2018, Tech News CNN, 2018 https://money.cnn.com/2018/08/06/technology/mobile-voting-west-virginia-voatz/index.html

There was a lack of research on mobile voting trends. This is the first instance of mobile voting being tested in the U.S. Also included is a link to the VOATZ website, the company which developed the voting app. (https://voatz.com/)

Poushter, Jacob “Smartphone Ownership and Internet Usage Continues to Climb in Emerging   Economies” Numbers, Facts, and Trends Shaping the World. Pew Research Center, Feb. 22, 2016.  http://s1.pulso.cl/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2258581.pdf Poushter conducted a survey of rising trends in smartphone usage. The study looked in to skyrocketing ownership of mobile devices and the popular uses.

Grandoni, Dino “ Mastermind Behind BuzzFeed’s Quizzes Explains How They Work And Why They’re So Crazy Viral” HuffPost, Tech, Feb 20, 2014.  https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/20/buzzfeed-quiz-how-do-they-work_n_4810992.html

McDonald, Michael “2016 November General Election Early Voting” A survey of voting trends. University of Florida, 2017. http://www.electproject.org/early_2016