Online Voter Registration to Kick Up Youth Vote, Simplify Registration

PHOTO: Websites like Turbo Vote are aiming to kick the youth vote into gear this election offering online options to get the youth voice
Websites like Turbo Vote are aiming to kick the youth vote into gear this election offering online options to get the youth voice heard.

The World Wide Web has taken over shopping, television, networking. So what's next? Voting? Websites like TurboVote are aiming to kick the youth vote into gear for the 2012 election, offering online options to get young people registered and the youth vote heard.

TurboVote, a nonprofit startup, lets people register to vote at the click of a mouse. The site provides easy ways to register and obtain absentee ballots. It even issues reminders about when and where to cast that ballot.

"When you want to do anything -- go shopping, watch movies, get information, the first thing we do is go online ... except for voting," Seth Flaxman, the executive director of TurboVote says. "We have a voting system now that doesn't fit the way we live. Our aim is to bring voting into the Internet age."

And the Internet age is hard to deny as people rely more and more on it as a way to keep up with entertainment and political activities. A recent Pew Research poll released in September found that 36 percent of social networking site users found the sites "very important" or "somewhat important" in keeping up with political news.

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TurboVote was launched as a pilot in 2010, and, like Facebook, Harvard University (alma mater to Flaxman and Mark Zuckerburg) became the first school to use the system.

"When freshman were registering for classes at Harvard in fall 2011, they had the option to also sign up for TurboVote," Flaxman said. "That year, a third of the freshman class signed up in just one day."

TurboVote has now worked its way onto 50 college campuses -- Columbia, Georgetown, Elon, University of Miami, to name a few -- and it keeps growing.

In 2010, 66 percent of college students who didn't vote said it was because they were out of town, or working. Or they simply forgot. "Those are the exact problems we are solving by bringing voting to the web," says Flaxman. "We are just updating an American tradition of making sure that voting is convenient for the way we live."

College students and young people have taken to social networks to spread the word about this modern approach to voter registration, tweeting and Facebooking about the site.

While TurboVote is relatively new, courting the youth vote is not. The recent spur of celebrities touting their political endorsements and similar voting initiatives, such as Rock the Vote, have also worked to drive young people to the polls.

Similar to TurboVote, Rock the Vote, entered the culture 21 years ago and has registered more than 5 million young people to vote, according to its website.

Rock the Vote has also made its way onto college campuses, hosting live music and other events throughout the country. The Twitter handle #RTVROADTRIP has college students tweeting about the national bus tour.

Although sites like TurboVote and Rock the Vote seem most prevalent on college campuses, Flaxman emphasizes that TurboVote is for everyone.

"We are for every voter, because we can help in every way," he says. "The idea is that you sign up once, and we will keep you registered and help you vote in all of your elections for the rest of your life."