Technology has played a bigger role in this election than ever before. This has been most noticeable in a negative way, from concerns about hacking and inflammatory tweets to private servers and leaked emails. What has gone largely unnoticed is the ability of technology to drive get-out-the-vote efforts, a crucial tool for any successful political campaign.
In presidential election years, down ballot candidates look to the national party committees to build field teams of volunteers to drive turnout. Secretary Clinton enjoys the resources of her party’s data infrastructure that serves all candidates with three times the number of campaign offices as her opponent. But because coordination between the Trump campaign and the Republican national headquarters is less cohesive, successful field organizations seem to be driven instead by down ballot candidates.
The success of Senator Rob Portman’s campaign is a good example of this. Despite the chaotic ups-and-downs of this election season, the Ohio incumbent’s campaign has steadily outperformed Mr. Trump on the strength of its own field operation. On Tuesday in Ohio, we may see the unique circumstance of a down ballot candidate driving turnout that pulls the top of the ticket.
The tech industry views this year as a critical election, devoting considerable resources to encourage political participation. Many apps are using the mobile connectivity of their users to help engage them in the political process. Many sacrifice potential revenues to drive forward these efforts.
Facebook started using the top of its newsfeed in late September to remind users over the age of 18 to register to vote. The social network also alerted users via in-app notifications when early voting opened. There is also an in-app feature — called Preview Your Ballot — designed to help people make voting decisions. Through the feature, we learned a local elected official was the attorney representing the women portrayed in the new Amazon series “Good Girls Revolt.”
Brigade is a social network built around voting. It works to connect like-minded people, foster healthy debate, and get people to vote. Its goal is to empower voters to bring about real change. Voters can review issues and compare candidates’ positions before voting. Users are encouraged to recruit other supporters for their favored candidate and the app posts rankings of top recruiters. Users of Brigade seem to favor Trump as the app shows support for him being very high in traditionally blue states. In Massachusetts for example, he leads 62 to 32.
Moovit is a public transit app that has teamed up with Rock the Vote to get people to the polls. The Moovit app features trip planning, live arrival and departure times, up-to-date schedules and more tools for users of public transit. For election day, Moovit will include polling stations, and help voters plan their trips to their local precincts.
Instacart is the grocery app for the gig economy. It takes users’ lists, buys the groceries, and arranges delivery within two hours. Throughout October, Instacart customers received notifications through the app reminding them of voter registration deadlines. Instacart provided a link to connect users to online registration sites in their local areas.
Providing voters mobile access to registration systems offers an incredible opportunity to increase political participation and civic engagement. A decade ago, voters would have faced a long line at the DMV or city hall to fill out lengthy paperwork. This not only happens online now, but mobile connectivity of smartphones also allows users to take action immediately upon being reminded.
Many races in Tuesday’s election are still too close to call. The candidates who win by a slim margin may have apps to thank. In such a turbulent election year, every innovative way to engage voters may make the difference.