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Engagement Best Practices General

Increasing Voter Turnout Using Civic Tech


The Canadian federal election’s been on our mind lately. From innovative election polling to real-time voter intention, we’ve been exploring some of PlaceSpeak’s potential for electoral politics. A recent Knight Foundation challenge asked, “How might we better inform voters and increase civic participation before, during and after elections?”

Elections Canada identified two types of barriers to voting: motivation barriers (attitudes, interest and political knowledge) and access barriers (knowledge of the electoral process, personal circumstances and administrative issues). With the Fair Elections Act, which prohibits Elections Canada from promoting voting in federal elections, there’s a lot of potential for civic tech to play a role in independent, non-partisan voter outreach.

1. Reduce barriers to information

It’s important to tackle physical barriers, such as ensuring voting information and polling stations are accessible to persons with disabilities. However, other barriers include education level or level of political knowledge. Make sure that information about voting is presented in simple language free of jargon (or where jargon is used, explained clearly).

At Code for America’s summit last week, it was announced that California would be launching a “Plain Language” Voter Bill of Rights to inform and empower citizens to vote.

Here in Canada, Right2Vote was launched to inform citizens of changes to the ID needed in order to vote in clear and simple language. right2vote

2. Make it easy to learn about politics

Do these sound familiar? “I don’t know who to vote for.” “I don’t know enough about what’s going on.” Elections Canada’s National Youth Survey Report identified “lack of political interest and knowledge” as one of the main motivational barriers to voting amongst Canadians aged 18 to 34.

To tackle opaque and complex parliamentary processes, brothers Shay Neufeld and Braden Neufeld have created a website using data from OpenParliament.ca for Canadians to track how their MP has voted on bills in Parliament. While plenty of similar sites exist in the U.S., votes.mp is the first of its kind in Canada. They hope that the user-friendly site will empower citizens to look up issues that they care about, and hold their MPs accountable.

I entered my postal code and easily found my MP and her voting record in Parliament:


3. Get Out the Vote (GOTV)

The 2012 Obama campaign is widely considered one of the best uses of social media and targeted marketing in GOTV efforts. By leveraging connected Facebook users, they were able to reach out to youth voters — a traditionally hard-to-reach demographic.

[In] those final weeks of the campaign, the team blitzed the supporters who had signed up for the app with requests to share specific online content with specific friends simply by clicking a button. More than 600,000 supporters followed through with more than 5 million contacts, asking their friends to register to vote, give money, vote or look at a video designed to change their mind.

Not solely the domain of political parties vying for votes, there’s a lot that independent, non-partisan groups can do to drive voter turnout on Election Day. TurboVote is a non-partisan U.S.-based startup which sends users text messages and email reminders about local and national elections. At the moment, users can also easily register to vote, update their voter registration, or request an absentee ballot through the website.

However, that’s not enough. In drawing inspiration from the Obama campaign, civic tech needs to leverage the human connections that underlie voting behaviour to build a similar network of politically-engaged individuals. For example, tying in the app with social media where users can invite friends to vote, turn attending a political rally or voting into a social activity, or even partnering with companies such as Uber to drive people to the polls.

Have you heard of any other civic tech groups doing awesome work around electoral politics? How else can civic tech drive voter turnout? Comment with your ideas below. 


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