By Tomas Lopez & Maureen Johnston.
More than 20 million students will attend college in the United States this fall, and many will have the opportunity to cast their first ballot on November 4. California, viewed as an innovator and a leader in spearheading reform, has a great opportunity in its 299 colleges with their enormous student population to lead yet again in registering and engaging the millennials who make up 34 percent of the adult population.
The Golden State has taken steps in recent years to increase the availability of its online election resources. In doing so, the state has created a timely and technologically-savvy system to motivate young voters to participate in the electoral system. Better than 4 out of every 5 Millennials own a smart phone. Immediate and mobile access to information about candidates and ballot measures presents an opportunity to use this technology to meet the voters in their comfort zone via the gadget in the palms of their hands. They can use their smart phones to make informed decisions about which candidates and issues they want to support—up until the point they cast their ballots in the voting booth.
The Brennan Center’s student voting guide is a powerful, state-by-state resource that arms eligible voters with the information they need to register to vote and cast a ballot that counts on Election Day. The guide puts the information at voters’ fingertips, especially young voters, who bank, pay bills and conduct virtually all of their life online. Voters who consult the Guide leave armed with key information about when, where, and how to register to vote, including whether a voter has to show ID at the polls before they can have obtain a ballot, and whether early voting options are available.
Voter’s Edge California is a great compliment to the guide. This sophisticated new election informational tool engages voters by allowing them to access relevant candidate and voting information about all races on the ticket. It lets voters evaluate a slate of candidates or ballot measures in a user-friendly and accessible format that is consistent with the way they already utilize technology.
Once a voter inputs his address into Voters Edge, the system populates all of the information needed to cast a ballot on Election Day. The platform is a one-stop-shop for aggregating key election data, such as candidate and ballot summaries, background information about candidates, relevant news, candidate endorsements, and campaign donors in on one place to ensure that voters can make informed election decisions.
Futhermore, in the latest iteration of Voter’s Edge set to launch on Monday, users will be able to choose how they will vote and share those choices with their peers via email or any social media platform, reducing barriers to important conversations that will spark even greater participation at the polls.
Observers sometimes pose two contradictory ideas about young people and the election system: that their immersion in technology removes them from the political system, and that this same immersion is an unprecedented platform for their engagement. By now, we understand that the truth about the latter can counter any notion of the former. The Brennan Center’s student voting guide and tools like Voter’s Edge go a long way towards ensuring that students (and all citizens) can cast a free, fair and accessible vote on Election Day.
Tomas Lopez is counsel & Maureen Johnston is Legal Extern in Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.