Your voting history is public record. That means anyone can look it up. They would not find the candidates you have voted for, but whether and when you have voted. If you’re registered with a party, that’s public, too.
And now, an app lets you consult these voter records easily. With your permission, VoteWithMe syncs your smartphone’s address book with the voter database. You can see whether your college friend missed the last election, for example, or how many primaries your parents have voted in, or whether your ex is registered as a Democrat or a Republican.
To what end? So that you know who, among your contacts, could use extra encouragement to cast their ballots this November.
Reminding friends and family to vote is 20 times more effective than door-to-door canvassing, according to controlled studies by the nonprofit developer of VoteWithMe. People are much more likely to act on a friend’s reminder to vote, according to this research, than a stranger’s.
The app’s development team, called the New Data Project, is led by former Google executive Mikey Dickerson, who left his Silicon Valley job to help fix the Obama administration’s healthcare website healthcare.gov. He later became the Administrator of the United States Digital Service. Last year, after leaving that position, Dickerson created non-profit organization the New Data Project, which developed the VoteWithMe app. The goal is to get more blue voters out on Election Day, for a more representative democracy.
You start by opening the app. Along with your contacts’ voting history, you’ll see who lives in hotly contested districts or states. (Flame icons appear beside their names.) There, you’ll also see the election years they’ve missed: 2016, for example, will appear crossed out.
With this information, the app hopes you’ll take the next step of reaching out. The app provides pre-written messages of encouragement that you can text to whomever (“…just reminding my friends about the election on Nov 6th,” one says). Each message includes a link customized for the recipient. Clicking it, they’ll find all the information they need to vote: when the midterms happen, which district they live in, what’s at stake, and how and when they can register. They’ll also find a button where they can download the app so that they can get their friends to vote too.
The app’s tagline, “Flip the House,” refers to the premise that, since there are enough congressional seats in contention right now, more blue voter turnout could flip control from the Republicans to the Democrats. Recent gallop polls have shown that majorities of Americans favor progressive policies, while in the 2016 election, about 100 million eligible voters didn’t vote, according to the U.S. Elections Project—or about 43 percent. With 23 seats needed to flip the House this year, and more than 100 contested seats, greater voter turnout could feasibly turn things around in Congress.
Other get-out-the-vote apps exist, including a Facebook app that lets you start mini-campaigns. But they lack the voter data VoteWithMe has gathered from all 50 states.
The amount of data—and how seamlessly the app taps into it—has concerned some with how that data is used. After it was revealed earlier this year that political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had been harvesting people’s private information from Facebook, data-collecting apps have attracted understandable scrutiny.
But VoteWithMe uses only records that are already public, doesn’t sell information, does nothing without your permission, and can’t send messages. It provides voter history and election information via a practical interface, but you’re the one who must act.
Even this, still, has made some uncomfortable. In today’s political climate, whether and how you vote reflects on who you are as a person and citizen. But it’s also the sort of discomfort that brings our power as voters into focus.
Download the VoteWithMe app here.