Kyle Riordan | Research Analyst
May 07, 2014

Stay In and Vote


On my T ride (or subway, metro, tube whatever your vernacular) I spotted a notice among the ads alerting riders of a town hall meeting to discuss a proposed raise in fare prices.  Yes I live in a city that still has town hall meetings - I know, “How quaint.”  This being yet another hike in price, my initial reaction was boy I’d like to go down there and give them a piece of my mind. But then I remembered I have a job, girlfriend, dog, friends and family that occupy just about all the time that I am not sleeping; really the likelihood of me following up on this (and casting a vote if there is one) is pretty minimal.  Let’s face it, I’m not going to do it and the proposition will likely pass forcing riders to dole out more cash…again.  Then I thought, there has to be a better way.

If you have read any of my, or other Strategy Services members’ blogs  you’ve probably already guessed the way, APIs.  Now before you dismissively say, “Sure, sure, APIs are always the way,” let me take a step back to explain.  My sentiment of being too busy to engage is by no means unique.  I bet you have missed numerous local elections and votes due to work, travel and prior engagements.  One look at the voter turnout rates for the last presidential election really bears this out.  Are we really that apathetic?  I don’t think we are; I think we are that preoccupied. 

So how can APIs help?  In short, APIs specifically telco APIs, can help bring the polls to you.  Wouldn’t it be so much easier to cast your vote if that vote was presented to you on your mobile phone or connected device?  Telco APIs can help deliver this invaluable service by providing messaging, location and user identification information.  

The messaging aspect is likely pretty self-explanatory.  Instead of you leaving work early or missing whatever other engagement you had to schlep yourself over to the polls and check some boxes with your vote, those check boxes can be delivered to you on your phone or connected device using telco SMS/MMS messaging.  Using telco messaging APIs would allow for states and districts to engage not just smartphone users but standard mobile phones, delivering poll questions in text form and allowing users to text in responses to cast their vote.  It might be a bit more clunky than the smartphone alternative, but its definitely less clunky than waiting in a long line in the rain to mark a piece a paper and deposit it in a voting machine that looks like it was made in the 1970’s. 

People want to vote, but they need an easier way to get engaged. Look at the mobile device saturation rates in the US; with this additional conduit into the voting booth the voter turnout rates are bound to go up.  Voting would not only be easier but more reflective of the general public’s will. 

Of course there are some concerns.  What happens when you have voters outside their designated geographies, or my pesky nephew seeing the voting prompt picks up my phone and casts my vote for Taft?  This is where some of these other telco services like Location and User Identification information come into play. 

With location information provided by telcos ballot questions can be presented to voters only for their district.  If for some reason voters roam outside of their district’s boundaries while casting the vote the telcos could power notifications both to the voter and district to enable shut off, or designate the vote cast to the absentee ballots, now counting it only if in district voting margins could be swayed in one direction or the other by absentees.  Better yet, now with the expanded level of voting enabled these votes could be considered in district votes as opposed to absentee, limiting absentee ballots.

But how can the districts be sure that the people actually sending their votes from their phones are who they claim to be?  That is where User Profile information comes into play.  The telcos’ already have data points like our names, addresses, credit card information and probably in some instances our Social Security Numbers.  We’ve given that information freely (more or less) so now lets make it useful for us as citizens.  When submitting a vote through a connected device users could be required to input some sort of identifiable information that either telcos or the state itself would then be able to verify. 

Delivering this information to the state opens up an array of input options: Social Security Number, driver’s license number, passport, you name it.  And for those states with their newfound photo identification requirements, telcos can deliver that too via MMS.  Submit some sort of photo identification number in conjunction with a picture (no duckface selfies please) taken at the time of the vote that the state can cross-reference and voila you’ve met even the most stringent of voter identification requirements.

It’s 2014, we have connected cows, internet ready egg trays and even smart homes that can recognized us as we approach.  Why then are we still voting like we did when powdered wigs and tricornes were in style?  We need a ballot box that comes to us not the other way around.  Let’s demand it from our local and state governments now so one day soon we can all, “Stay in and vote.”