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electionlineWeekly — May 18, 2017

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I. In Focus This Week

Contra Costa County’s 2Vote Program: All the cool kids are doing it
Texting program helps high school students register online

By M. Mindy Moretti
Electionline.org

If you’ve spent a nanosecond of time with teenagers these days, you know that they are always on their phones. Texting. Snapchatting. Instagramming. Facetiming. Ignoring calls from their parents. Always on their phones.

So how do you get their attention to do things like register to vote? You text them a link to the online voter registration form of course!

Contra Costa County, California, in partnership with their vendor Global Mobile has added a service to their existing text service 2Vote that allows high school students to text the name of their school to 2Vote (28683) and they receive a link to the online voter registration form.

CCTextThe service is available for all the county’s public, private and charter high school students.

Paul Burgarino, civic engagement specialist for the Contra Costa County, Clerk and Recorder’s Elections Department explained that since the county was already providing a text service for voters — poll worker sign-ups, checking voter registration status, registering or reregistering to vote, Election Night results, etc. – the leap to providing a service geared towards young people was the next logical step.

Once the key word is received, Global Mobile’s system sends the website link via text message to the student. When the student clicks on the link they can register to vote, check their current registration status, review a sample ballot, or participate in a mock election.

“With their ability to create a Sample Ballot, we added a mock election component, as we want young voters to use this information to become comfortable with the voting process,” Burgarinso said. “By asking questions relevant to their social issues we hope to show the nexus between how voting affects their daily lives.”

The county elections staff has created the questions and the format for the mock election, and they plan to modify the questions on a regular basis to give students another opportunity to participate and familiarize themselves with voting. The county also works with Global Mobile to change the topics on the link that the user receives.

“Global Mobile did most of the technological legwork, while we worked collaboratively to create 50 unique flyers (one for each school) that include the school logo and are CCText2personalized for each school community,” Burgarinio explained. “The Contra Costa County Elections’ Civic Engagement Team worked on the promotional side, sharing flyers on each school’s social media site, connecting via email with teachers, principals, superintendents, and students who served as Poll Workers in the June and November 2016 Elections.”

The county is in regular contact with school staff to post flyers around campus and spreading the word on social media. Additionally, many instructors have agreed to include outreach information in their civic educational syllabus activity.

Because the county was already under contract with Global Mobile, the 2Vote program was added to the overhead so there were no additional expenses or outstanding maintenance costs.

Although there have been no concrete plans to share this technology with other counties or statewide, Burgarino said other, nearby counties have contacted Contra Costa and their vendor about the program.

Burgarino said the feedback from students and teachers has been positive.

“They enjoy how simple it is to access on their phones and how convenient it is to use,” Burgarino said. “Teachers and other educators throughout Contra Costa County have advised that they love the idea.”

Even in the early stages of the program — and at the end of the school year when summer is calling — Burgarino said they are already seeing texting and the corresponding increase in voter registrations.