Washington State has entered new territory in e-government by allowing residents to register to vote through Facebook and Rock the Vote. The apps, which are expected to launch next week on a Washington State Elections’ Facebook page and on the Rock the Vote page, is the result of a collaboration of the state, Facebook, Rock the Vote and Microsoft.
“In this age of social media and more people going online for services, this is a natural way to introduce people to online registration and leverage the power of friends on Facebook to get more people registered,” said Shane Hamlin, co-director of elections in an interview with the Associated Press.
The Facebook app works by prefilling a voter registration form for users who click on the app and agree to let Facebook access their information. For further verification, users must provide a driver’s license or state ID card number. After registering, users can then “like” the application and recommend it to their friends. The Rock the Vote app works in a similar manner.
Hamlin downplays any concerns about security or privacy, noting safeguards already in place. Neither Facebook nor Rock the Vote have access to the state’s voter database. The applications are simply an overlay of the state’s database application. And all new information (the user’s name and date of birth were already apart of Facebook) is collected by the state, not by third parties.
Online voter registration is not new to Washington state voters. The state has offered online services since 2008; 475,000 registrations or changes of address have been processed since they started. According to a National Journal study, nearly a third of these online registrations have accorded in 2012, and 62 percent of those were done by voters younger than 34 years old.
Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote, estimates that 50,000 new Washington voters will register through these new systems. The organization is building interfaces for elections systems in Oregon and Nevada. Smith expects to have an agreement with California soon, with an online registration system up and running by Labor Day.
“Setting up Washington helped provide a nice model,” Smith said in an interview with the National Journal. “It should be fairly simple for us to replicate it state-by-state.”
Facebook has been involved in several voter awareness campaigns this year as part of a continuous effort to reach voters online.
“We are excited that citizens in Washington state will be able to register to vote and review useful voting information on Facebook,” said Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes.
Last week, CNN and Facebook announced a partnership for the 2012 election. One of the highlights of this partnership is a “I’m Voting” Facebook app which allows users to endorse specific candidates and issues. During the Republican primaries, Facebook partnered with Politico to measure the political sentiments of Facebook users.