Thursday, October 18, 2012

Technology makes it easier for youth to register to vote

Registering to vote is the first step every citizen must take in order to exert his or her right to suffrage. Now that general elections are coming in the US, it is important that people register to choose their next president. It is worth noting that people under 30 constitute the largest group of unregistered voters in most states. In order to close this gap and engage the youth in politics, there are different initiatives to bring them closer to the polling stations. 

Generally speaking, in order for an American citizen to vote, he or she must fill an application and mail it to the Supervisor of Elections at the voter’s county, and wait for a voter information card. This whole procedure takes a couple of weeks—give or take, depending on whether the application was mailed or submitted personally—, and varies from state to state. It is indeed cumbersome, and it constitutes one of the reasons why many people opt out of their right to elect and leave decisions to fate or chance. Of course, this is a bad mistake, and not few organisms are trying to change this condition. There are many campaigns out there trying to appeal to potential voters, especially the younger ones, and invite them to register to vote. However, publicity alone doesn’t always do the trick. Students and young workers are not as patient as to fill out paper forms, put them in an envelope, pay postage, and wait, nor they have the time to go to an office and do paperwork there. Fortunately, in some states, technology is on people’s side, and it is increasingly appealing to the younger population.

This year, a new law makes it possible for residents of California to register online. The effect of this new legislation has been immediate: since September 19, more than 25,000 people have registered to vote through the state website. More impressive yet is the fact that the first day the online application became available, 10,000 people registered to vote. As expected, the younger voters have dominated the use of the new tool. 

Image: FreeStockPhotos
Washington State, on the other hand, has released a Facebook app through which voters can register online. When asked about privacy issues, the co-director of elections for Washington, Shane Hamlin, explained that Facebook does not have access to users’ social security number nor their driver’s license number, and that Facebook is merely the tool that connects voters to the State Elections page.

Much of the advocating for young voters to register has been done by Rock the Vote. Rock the Vote is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization whose main objective is to engage young people and build their political power. Using the alluring power of music, popular culture, and new technologies, Rock the Vote seeks to give young voters tools to learn and take action about issues that affect their lives. The most important way they can do this is by voting. Right now, Rock the Vote offers a customizable voting registration tool that anyone can install on their website. This way, young bloggers become an active instrument in the exercise of democracy. 

There is no doubt that online tools are an effective way to get young people to come closer to their right to suffrage. However, the efforts must not stop at registering. The next step is getting people to actually vote.