Reporting

Online voter info key to getting hyper-connected Millennials to the polls

September 16, 2014 by Nadine Ono


Fiber optic cable, where the Internet flows, is how we get Millennials to the polls (images: Wikimedia, Flickr/JaredZammet)

To say that the Millennial generation is “connected” is an understatement. Remember a time when you couldn't think of any song or any clip from any movie, look it up on YouTube and immediately share it with a friend in a few seconds time? They don’t.

This is the first generation to grow up having all the information in the world quite literally at their fingertips. Babies raised with iPads now try to scroll through dreadfully analog print magazines. A rotary phone is something in a museum to Millennials and they can’t imagine a time when there were only a handful of over-the-air television stations and (gasp!) no internet.

There’s a generic term for them: digital natives.

“This is the generation where you have over 90 percent online, over 60 percent connected when they’re away from home,” said Ashley Spillane, president of Rock the Vote

A recent study by Experian Marketing Services shows that Millennials spend 14.5 hours each week on their smart phones to talk, text and access social media. That same report shows that Millennials spend about 67 hours a week accessing all media, with the majority of that time spent on digital.

According to Spillane, Millennials aren’t just accessing media, they are participating. 

“It’s actually a generation that is most vocal about what they believe in, feel, express – it’s the most self-expressive generation we’ve ever had and that’s mostly because of the platforms they have available to them,” she said. “What’s not translating now is that the real way to voice that opinion and make it actionable is to participate in the democratic process.”

Although Millennials turned out in high numbers during the last two presidential elections, they’ve generally stayed home for the mid-terms and primaries. So, how do organizations reach this generation that is eager to share many aspects of their personal lives and views on public platforms, but is reluctant to visit the polling station more than once every four years?

“What I think we’re trying to tap into at Rock the Vote is this self-expression and having a voice and knowing this is a generation that wants to be heard more than anything else and trying to make it clear that this (voting) is the way to do that,” Spillane said. Rock the Vote is partnering with organizations nationwide to increase voter registration among Millennials as well as get them politically aware and involved.

California is one of the states that Spillane says is headed in the right direction. By offering online voter registration, the state is making an effort to reach those who are more comfortable using digital media, rather than regular mail-in forms or participating in registration drives.

The state (and the entire country, for that matter) also has another way to educate voters via digital media. The League of Women Voters of California Education Fund and MapLight have joined forces to create Voter’s Edge, a website that offers non-partisan information on candidates and propositions. 

The website allows users to find out basic information about their statewide and local races by just inputting his/her zip code. On it's October 1 launch, it will also incorporate the LWVC’s Smart Voter guide, which offers streamlined ballot language and candidate info written for those who aren't Sacramento wonks.

And creating websites such as Voter’s Edge may be the way to reach this generation. California Forward has spoken to many throughout this series and the sentiment is clear: websites and peers are in as sources of info, traditional news is out.

A feature incorporated into Voter’s Edge that allows anyone to fill out their ballot choices and create a custom, platform-agnostic URL that can be shared on any web-based medium may be the key to breaking down barriers among Millennials toward releasing that pent up desire for expression through civic participation. 

All it will take is one civically-minded member of a large social circle to fill out and share the ballot with his or her peers and suddenly an entire group is now thinking about how they would vote and has all of the information found on Voter’s Edge immediately at their disposal. A line from a movie before any Millennials’ time comes to mind: "If you build it, they will come."

This is exactly what MapLight, the League of Women Voter’s of California’s Education Fund and California Forward are hoping will happen.