Could checking in at polling places help get out the vote?
Getting out the vote is key for Republicans and Democrats on election day next Tuesday, but whether a Foursquare check-in badge for polling places will help promote voting is anyone's guess.
A non-partisan group of digital political consultants, tech firms, and civic organizations, including Foursquare, has unveiled the check-in badge, which features a red, white, and blue U.S. flag-inspired design. By checking-in at their polling places using the badge, voters will notify friends and followers that they voted.
In addition to the check-in badge, the coalition devised a means of visualizing polling place check-ins. Using polling place data from The Voting Information Project - an information hub for voters - the system will track how many check-ins occur across the country at individual polling places on November 2. That information will be displayed throughout the day on Elections.Foursquare.com. Based on Foursquare data, the system will also compare voter check-ins by women to those of men.
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The standard Foursquare competition involves check-in battles to become the mayor of a location. Though polling place mayorships won't be in play on election day, the competitive spirit that helped propel the platform could be in effect, said Jordan Raynor, president of Direct Media Strategies. He expects a competition among polling places, cities, or even between women and men, based on the data displayed on the Elections.Foursquare.com site.
"I think that will be a pretty cool competitive component of this," he said, noting that the system encompasses more than 108,000 polling places. Ensuring polling places are in the database was "the biggest challenge of the whole thing," said Raynor. The Voting Information Project provided that information. It appears that not all polling places are listed in the database, however, so some may not be able to check in to their exact polling place. For instance, this reporter's local voting location in Jersey City, NJ was not shown in search results on the Voting Information site.
The check-in effect should be evident on Twitter and Facebook, where many Foursquare users enable check-in posts. "People will be posting these to their Facebook news streams and their Twitter accounts," said Raynor.
The partnership behind the project includes Rock the Vote, The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Voting Information Project, VoteReport, Google, Foursquare, design agency Jess3, and Republican digital agency Engage. Raynor, who worked with Engage as a subcontractor on the project, initiated development of the badge earlier this year through a petition using Twitter petition service act.ly.
Foursquare has over 4 million users, according to the company. That's a small fraction of the number of people expected to vote November 2, even though midterm elections historically attract fewer voters than presidential elections. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1994 and 2006 - both high turnout midterm elections - 48 percent of voting-age citizens voted. In 2006, that amounted to 96 million voters, far outweighing the Foursquare universe.
Still, posts on Twitter and Facebook notifying friends and followers of Foursquare polling place check-ins could have a ripple effect when it comes to inspiring others to get out and vote.
The coalition behind the project will be sure to analyze that impact. "There's going to be a lot of knowledge and a lot of rich data," associated with the initiative, said Raynor.
Ultimately, the goal of the project is to "create a model that we can replicate in 2012," said Raynor.
"This is the first real mass initiative within the location space to use this technology to encourage other people to get out and vote," he said. "It is something that candidates will want to promote as another incentive to get out and vote."
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
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