App unnecessary for better voter turnout

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An app pressuring friends into voting is the wrong solution to low voter turnout, but it’s a step in the right direction.
 
Vote With Me, the latest app by The New Data Project, has recently faced criticism due to its perceived invasion of privacy. 
 
The application takes advantage of public U.S. voting records and allows users to see which parties their friends are registered to and which elections they participated in. Users are then asked to encourage their friends to vote by sending pre-written texts. 
 
The New Data Project isn’t alone in its strategic use of technology to encourage voting in the U.S. But using personal information to dictate others’ behaviour—or at least suggesting it—has disheartening implications. 
 
In theory, public voting records should be a neutral aspect of civic life, but politics are increasingly personal. From a young age, we’re taught not to ask others about their salaries, religions, or political affiliations. 
 
It’s important to encourage those around you to exercise their democratic right to vote—especially in the current political climate. However, using people’s voting record—or lack thereof—against them assumes everyone has access to voting mechanisms and nobody suffers from political disenfranchisement or suppression. 
 
Establishing voting as a social norm is critical, but delving into your contacts’ pasts won’t accomplish that. Scolding friends into casting ballots doesn’t foster a positive mindset around voting. It intimidates anyone who know less about politics, making them less likely to vote as a result. 
 
The app’s creators have a clear desire to improve voter turnout, but that power shouldn’t result in sharing contacts with a tech company. Participation should be organic. Politics are a conversation, not a sermon.
 
That said, low voter turnout is a problem. 
 
In Kingston’s recent municipal election, only 41 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballots. Grassroots efforts to improve voter turnout are critical to democratic engagement, and can take many shapes. Online voting could be publicized and made more reliable, or election day could be a statutory holiday.
 
These strategies don’t carry the same privacy or relational implications as Vote With Me—they’re concrete accessibility measures. And if you really 
want to text your friends to remind them to vote, you don’t need an app to do so. 
 
Though The New Data Project’s app isn’t the right solution, it raises the right questions. 
 
Vote With Me isn’t necessarily a solution to voter apathy, but it triggers discussion about appropriate means of encouraging turnout—and that’s valuable in itself.
 

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