A Facebook Hack To A Greater Democracy

Editor’s note: Alex Teu is executive vice president of odrive.

A month after the mid-term elections, the Republican Party is rejoicing and the Democrats are reeling. But it’s democracy that took a big hit.

According to the NY Times, this election was the worst voter turnout in 72 years. Only 36.3 percent of the nation’s eligible population voted. New York drew only 28.8 percent. California and Texas also drew less than a third. Washington D.C., our nation’s capitol, drew 30.3 percent. Appalling.

Why such a low turnout? Sure, there was no presidential election but there is no doubt that apathy ruled the day. I don’t have much hope or suggestions on eliminating apathy but there was one shining ray of hope: It turns out that more people voted when voting was made easier. In Colorado and Oregon, which allow their citizens to vote by mail, had the fourth- and fifth-highest turnout (53 percent and 52 percent, respectively).

We are a nation of apathy, distraction and disillusionment. Let’s acknowledge that.

A co-worker of mine wanted to vote but did not because she was not registered. Let’s make it easier to register everyone.

I did vote, but did not really know much except for the California governor’s office, a local school board race for a candidate I was helping, and two propositions (a California oddity). My “research” consisted mostly of reading the title description of the propositions, and name recognition of the candidates. This is why incumbents usually win, and ads work. Mea Culpa.

On Election Day, Facebook posted a voting reminder banner atop every US user news feed page. You couldn’t miss it.

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 9.14.45 AM

Facebook employed a similar banner for the 2010 elections and studies showed that the effort led to an additional 340,000 votes across the nation.

Like, love or hate ‘em, Facebook has our attention. The user statistics bear this out: 864 million daily active users globally, and 152 million DAUs in US and Canada.

For the sake of the nation and democracy, we need to draft Facebook into service. I say this with tongue in cheek but it’s come to this. And this is what I suggest:

  • Voter registration. Register to vote by uploading your driver’s license or ID to Facebook.
  • Information library on candidates and issues. This should be neutral. Easier said than done, I know. Perhaps allow each candidate and group supporting an issue to provide a summary of the positions in 500 words. That’s really the max that most people can maintain their focus.
  • Facebook direct voting.

By the way, I can not take credit for this radical idea. The kernel of the idea was suggested by Dave Eggers in his novel, “The Circle” about a technology company that made a virtue of knowing everything about its users. Was the reference to Facebook or Google? Both?

Eggers comically and darkly painted an Orwellian society where a single private company knew your every action, every thought. I am well aware of this slippery slope but it is time to at least consider how we can leverage technology to make it easier to vote, vote often and vote intelligently. Mail-in ballots are good but it cannot be the best we can do.