This Texting Tool Could Be A Voting Game-Changer

Photographed by Bianca Valle.
Goodbye, paperwork printouts and lines at the DMV. Hello, registering while in line for coffee.

Starting today, you can register to vote over text message or Facebook Messenger. It’s thanks to a new service called HelloVote, the very first text message-based voter-registration tool.

The service works fairly simply: Voters can either text HelloVote or message it via Facebook Messenger to start the process. From there, new voters fill out a form with some basic information required by states — name, mailing address, some state-based questions about eligibility — and that’s it. If your state accepts instant registration, HelloVote will send your forms along automatically. If not, HelloVote will mail you the completed form for you to sign, along with a pre-addressed stamped envelope to send to your local Board of Elections. The whole process takes under a minute.

Cofounder Tiffiniy Cheng is hopeful that the service will help voters who’ve had difficulty registering — particularly young voters — to get that registration in order.

“Voter registration can be pretty difficult and something that most people don’t love to do. At the same time, we’re at a point in history when messaging is the way that people communicate and how they get their news,” she told Refinery29 by phone. “So we’re really bringing voter registration up to the modern times.”

It could be a game changer. U.S. Census Bureau information found that 15.4% of U.S. citizens over 18, or more than 33 million people, were not registered to vote in the last presidential election.

One-fifth of those who didn’t vote said that they weren’t registered because they “had no time,” according to the Pew Research Center. On the other hand, the organization found that a whopping 92% of Americans owned a cell phone in 2015, and the vast majority of them had their phones on them “frequently.”

“People are texting all day, every day. Now, they can use what they do every day to register to vote,” Cheng said.

She emphasizes that HelloVote has done all the desk work in what voters need to know and streamlines what they need to do in order to register. “We built this to take out much of the technical or legal barriers or confusion for registering to vote,” she said. They’ll even send you information about your polling place and voting guidelines.

“This is a unique election and there’s a lot of interest in how people can make sure they’re registered to vote and their friends are registered to vote,” Cheng says. “This is a tool that goes beyond anything that exists already, that can make that happen.”

HelloVote launches today with support from several media companies and organizations, including Refinery29. Want to try it out? You can text 384-387 or go to m.me/hellovote in Facebook Messenger and try out the service.
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