Voter Registration? There's an App for That

Candidates are already using social media to get out the vote. Now some are asking, "Why not use social media to register to vote?"

As early as next week, Washington state residents will be able to do just that via Facebook.

The application, which was developed through a partnership among the state government, Facebook and Microsoft Corp., is the next step in digitizing voter registration in Washington. Along with 12 other states, Washington allows voters to register online. Washington is the first state to allow voter registration through social media.

The project originated out of conversations with Rock the Vote, an organization that works to register young adults to vote and engage them in the political process, according to Shane Hamlin, co-director of elections in Washington.

Rock the Vote wanted to transfer responsibility for registering Washington state voters to the state itself and, in deciding how to do so, the state department of elections focused on attracting new voters via the Internet.

"We had online registration in Washington for four years, we were the second state to offer it starting in 2008, and we definitely want to grow and expand the use of online registrations because online registrations are more efficient to process," Hamlin said. "And, frankly, people expect to be able to do things online."

Microsoft, which has a long working relationship with Washington's state government, developed the app at no cost. Hamlin said Facebook is a partner in the project "in the sense that they are very interested in doing this."

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While the Facebook app does require users to allow the application to access their personal information, such as their name and birth date, this is information already saved to users' Facebook profiles. Hamlin emphasized that other identifying information, such as the driver's license or state ID card number that voters will still need to provide in order to register, will not be stored within Facebook's databases.

Hamlin said that while the app is displayed within a Facebook skin, voters registering through the application are using a system within Washington state's voter registration website. Users also must verify their residency in Washington state, which is automatically verified by the state's records, and give the government permission to use the signature it has on file to complete the form. Both of these processes are handled solely by the state's secure website. "Facebook is not capturing this information," Hamlin said.

The state hopes that the application will encourage a wide range of new voters to register, as well as draw attention to its My Vote tool, a personalized resource available to every registered voter in the state of Washington. The site allows voters to update their address, view candidate statements and review which elections they have voted in, among other things.

Hamlin said that while the app was not developed to target any specific group of potential voters, "the younger demographic is a smaller proportion of our registered demographic, so that maybe is a way to grow registration in that demographic."

"We're really excited," Hamlin said. "We do really think that this is going to increase the number of people that are registered to vote and also spread awareness of the availability of our My Vote tool."

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