Barring a few special circumstances, every U.S. citizen has the right to vote — or not vote — in government elections. But don’t expect to stay home on election day guilt-free.
In the U.S., your voting record is public information — depending on the state, your record could include anything from the political party you’re affiliated with to whether or not you voted in past elections.
Now, at least two tech startups have created apps that use this information to give people an easy way to peer pressure their friends into voting.
On Sunday, The New York Times published a compelling story on two political apps, VoteWithMe and Outvote. The apps pull the voting data of everyone in your contact list and group those contacts based on how engaged they are in the voting process.
You can then use the apps to encourage your contacts to vote in the coming election in several ways. For example, you could send reminders of the election date to the less-than-committed voters in your contact list or ask your more committed friends to be sure to encourage their friends to vote.
Unfortunately, these political apps might work better in theory than in practice.
First, there’s the fact that they don’t really provide a full picture of your voting history — they only show the data for the state you’re currently registered in. Then there’s the possibility that the apps might affect how people vote — not just how often.
Right now, you might not think twice about registering as a Democrat even though you work for a decidedly Republican-leaning company, but you might if you knew your boss was likely to download an app that reveals that information.
It’s a tricky situation. Democracies work best when everyone participates, but is app-delivered peer pressure really the best way to encourage a higher voter turnout in the future? Just a thought, but maybe we should all focus on securing our elections and restoring Americans’ faith in the democratic process instead.
READ MORE: Did You Vote? Now Your Friends May Know (and Nag You) [The New York Times]