"Young people don't vote because they're apathetic" is a common claim about young voter habits. Young people vote at lower rates compared to their older counterparts, not because they don't care, but because the voting process is confusing.
My first time voting was stressful. I'm a Utah native, but went to college in New York State, and didn't have a permanent address to register to vote in New York. It took hours of research to determine how to cast my vote from afar. Which form should I fill out? Oh, I have to apply before I can receive a ballot? Wait a minute, what is the deadline for mailing this form in?! When I finally had the absentee ballot process down pat, I felt like fist pumping and moonwalking across campus at my achievement.
Many young Americans can relate to my experience. Figuring out where to cast your vote differs from state to state, creating a barrier for first time voters. In fact, in 2008, 1.9 million people didn't vote simply because they didn't know where to go.
Recent research shows delivering a plan on how to vote through popular communication tools, can overcome young voter confusion. Researchers from the University of California conducted a 61-million-person experiment on Facebook, sending a reminder to users to go the polls during the 2010 midterm elections. They found that users who received this message were more likely to go to the polls, generating 60,000 additional votes. They also found that for every person mobilized, four of their close friends were inspired to vote, yielding an additional 280,000 votes. Using an accessible platform to communicate to new voters can unleash hundreds of thousands of young people to the polls.
Research also shows new voters are nine times more likely to vote if given a specific plan. If a new voter is armed with information on where and how to cast their vote, they will actually turn up to the polls. Think of voting as learning how to drive. You wouldn't speed off in your first car without learning how to drive first (I would hope). Why are young voters expected to get in the driver's seat without an instruction manual on how to get started?
Young voters need a clear plan communicated to them on how to cast their first vote, and text messaging is the perfect way to do this. Text messaging has a 97 percent open rate. Young people send 3,000 texts per month on average, and open virtually every text message they receive. Given that nearly two million people missed their chance to vote in 2008 because they couldn't find their polling place, why not deliver that information to them directly through text? By delivering polling information by text (instead of email and forsaken snail mail) this crucial information can reach thousands of young voters in the most accessible way possible.
As a campaign leader at DoSomething.org, my task was to strategize on how to mobilize young voters this fall. Armed with data on the need to clarify the voting process for first timers, we teamed up with Virgin Mobile to deliver "V-Spots" (aka voting locations) to young voters through text messaging.
The V-Spot Campaign gives young voters the resources to map out where they need to be on Election Day, making it more likely they will actually cast their vote. Users text "VSPOT" to 38383 (go ahead, pull your phone out and give it a whirl) and are prompted to text in their address. They'll then receive a text back with the address of their voting location. No matter what state you live in, you can get your voting location text messaged to your phone in a matter of minutes. It cuts through the clutter and gives young voters the information they need to cast their vote come Election Day.
Young people have the power to change the face of politics. We're 44 million strong, diverse, and more globally connected than any previous generation this country has seen. We're not apathetic; we're tired of the being thrust into the voting process without proper tools and information. Imagine a world where figuring out how to vote is as simple as sending a text message... oh wait, it is, and I can't wait to see the outcome.