The Youth Is Getting Registered...Online
Kissing babies aside, the youth vote is important to candidates and advocacy groups this year. Consider the upcoming National Democratic and Republican Conventions, where youth speakers chosen through MTV's Choose or Lose 2004 essay contest will take to their respective party's podiums. In order to engage the younger generation, organizations are taking to the streets, the Web, and the wireless realm to get the kids registered.
Rock The Vote, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group aiming to register one million people and propel 20 million 18-30-year-olds to the polls in November, has initiated 300,000 voter registrations via its Web site and those of its partners since March of 2003. "We've seen a surge in all our activities this year more than any year since 1992," observes Michael Evans, COO of the organization, founded in 1990 by members of the recording industry. "It's a very important election," he concludes. "Everyone sees that -- not only young people."
Using technology provided by consulting company The Carol/Trevelyan Strategy Group, a division of software provider Kintera, over 300 prominent and obscure Rock the Vote partners including domestic hunger-relief organization America's Second Harvest, The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and a New Hampshire band called Backstabbers Inc., have created free voter registration mini-sites that link directly from their Web sites using the customizable tool.
In the last month, more than 10,000 registrations have occurred through Michael Moore's official Fahrenheit 9/11 movie site, according to Evans.To be finalized, online voter registrations must be signed and mailed according to specific state instructions.
In addition to running Web ads, sending e-mails to its mailing list of 500,000 vernal voters, and orchestrating real world activities like its upcoming bus tour, Rock the Vote sends text messages to its members through relationships with Cingular and Motorola. When recipients get a text message, Evans said, "They immediately mention it to whomever they're talking to and it sparks a dialogue."
A survey of 1,000 15- to 25-year-old Americans, conducted by The Council for Excellence in Government, found that respondents would be more supportive of a candidate campaign employing opt-in communication methods, such as online chat, issue e-mails, blogs, and Meetup events. Other sometimes less personalized, less interactive tactics like e-mails urging a vote, banner ads, weekly e-mail updates, and weekly text messages were not favored overall.
According to The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, 42 percent of 18- to 24-year-old citizens turned out to vote in the 2000 presidential election nationally, compared to 70 percent of citizens 25 and up. Federal Election Commission records show that in 2000, 67.5 percent of registered voters turned out to the polls, or 51.3 percent of the voting age population.
Nonpartisan voter registration outfit Declare Yourself has counted 206,000 downloads of the voter registration form through its site since November of 2003, according to the group's Special Projects Director, Caty Borum. Votenet Solutions Inc. provides voter registration software. Like Rock the Vote, the organization has taken the pop-culture approach to wooing young voters, enlisting music stars and other celebrities including Christina Aguilera and André 3000 to promote its efforts. Yahoo!, Declare Yourself's premium online partner, has run text links on its homepage to the group's Web site, and hosted a Declare Yourself site section featuring streaming versions of its new television PSAs. Declare Yourself also buys Google search keywords and organizes several offline events.
"Young people are often daunted by the [voter registration] process," Borum explained. Because they often vote for the first time from a college town in a state other than their hometown, she added, "It's really important for them to understand what they need to do to get an absentee ballot." Users can learn about absentee ballots and link to state-specific information through the Declare Yourself and Rock the Vote Web sites.
Myriad organizations are pushing for voters of all legal ages to register online, including partisan groups like America Coming Together, Friends of Hillary, and progressive nonprofit supporter, Working Assets, a telecom company which registers voters through its Your Vote Matters site.