Mobile voting: The best way to engage millennials?
Mobile technology has changed many daily tasks, such as getting directions, making dinner reservations and communicating with others. However, the voting process is one of the few areas that has remained largely unchanged. In the face of evolution in other areas of life, has the lack of progress in mobile voting affected voter turnout? The short answer: probably.
Pew Research Center found that in April 2016, 69.2 million millennials were eligible to vote, making this generation almost equal in size to the 69.7 million baby boomers. However, actually getting millennials to the polls to vote is proving to be a challenge, even in presidential elections. Pew reported that in 2008, only 50 percent of eligible millennials voted (compared with 61 percent of eligible Gen Xers), and 46 percent of voting-age millennials voted in 2012.
Interestingly enough, low voter turnout doesn’t mean millennials aren’t interested in politics. UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute found that in 2015, first-year college students had a greater interest in politics and civic engagement than any freshman class in the past 50 years.
Would mobile voting increase voter turnout?
So, why is the interest in politics not translating into actual votes on Election Day? One reason may be that the voting process doesn’t reflect how millennials conduct most of their lives and business. Millennials have grown up with cell phones as a way of life, and only the oldest remember a life without the internet.
The topic of mobile voting is garnering some buzz, and not just because fake Twitter ads were made encouraging supporters to vote through text, but because it is seen as a strategy to get younger voters to cast their ballots. Although mobile voting is not currently being used in US elections, there have been some advancements toward digitizing the voting process. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 31 states and the District of Columbia allow voters to register online. Earlier this year, Iowa caucus leaders used a mobile app to send in their voting results, USA Today reported. Although there were a few snafus with the app, it functioned largely as planned.
Some cite security as an obstacle, but if we have the technological ability to make online banking and bill-pay secure, it should be feasible to do the same for mobile voting. However, the Washington Post brings up an important complicating factor: the essential role of anonymity in the voting process. Reporting a mistake in your digital ballot wouldn’t be quite as easy as flagging a fraudulent purchase on your bank account.
Once an effective mobile voting system is created — the U.S. Vote Foundation is currently working on one — voting rates among millennials will likely increase. It’s not simply the fact that mobile voting will most likely take less time or that it will be more convenient. It’s more the fact that the process will feel familiar to millennials and fit in with the way they already interact with the world — through their mobile phones.