Democracy, Technology, And Getting Young People To Show Up At The Polls



This post was written by guest columnist Adrienne Lever, Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships at Democracy Works, a non-profit tech startup that works to make voting easy. Adrienne joined Democracy Works after having worked on political campaigns across the country, as well as in communications for both the public and private sectors. You can follow her company on Twitter @TurboVote

According to a recent study by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), turnout for young voters between the ages of 18-24 was 41.2% in 2012, a decrease from 48.5% in 2008. And while nearly two-thirds of college students voted in November 2012, only 27% did so in the 2010 midterm elections. Turnout drops even lower in primary and municipal elections, even after the 2012 bump.

These youth voting trends shed light on a serious challenge for American democracy. Voters aged 18-29 comprised 21% of eligible voters in 2012, and by 2015 this generation will make up one-third of the electorate. If as a country we fail to engage young people in the electoral process, we are systematically overlooking a significant portion of the population.

The same study also reveals important conclusions about the cause of youth disenfranchisement and methods for keeping youth engaged. An alarming 66% of students who did not vote in 2010 missed the election for logistical reasons, while only 12% reported that they missed the election because they were uninterested. According to CIRCLE, more young people will register and vote when they have the information they need about how, when and where.

My nonprofit startup, Democracy Works, builds technology to address this exact issue. Our organization developed TurboVote, a “one-stop-shop” voter registration and engagement tool, because if more people have easy access to voting information, more people will show up to the polls. And if more people turn out, our democracy will be more robust. More people will be more involved in their communities. Politicians will be more accountable to their constituents. Our democracy, on the whole, will function more smoothly.

Over 125 colleges and universities across the country are already partnering with TurboVote to ensure that their students receive all the personalized information that they need to vote in all of their elections – local, state and national. TurboVote tracks election dates and deadlines, as well as state-specific regulations, in order to create customized election reminders so that students can sign up once and get the information they need for every election when they need it. The service also provides complete online registration and automated vote-by-mail services. If a student needs to register by mail or request an absentee ballot, TurboVote sends them forms, pre-completed with a stamped, addressed envelope.

In April, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) and the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA), two of the nation's leading higher education associations, teamed up to recruit 100 of their member schools to adopt the TurboVote platform. This commitment is a milestone for institutionalizing voter outreach in higher education. 

The partnership between Democracy Works, NASPA and AASCU sends an important message to the academic community that democratic participation should be a part of every student’s college experience. The federal Higher Education Amendments of 1998 already require colleges to make a “good faith effort” to distribute registration materials to students.

TurboVote makes it easy for institutions to meet this mandate and strategically ensure that all their students get the personalized election information that they need. Colleges and universities using TurboVote are integrating the tool into orientation programs, class registration, student intranets and other interactions crucial to campus life.

What methods or tools are you seeing successfully wrangle young people to vote? 

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