Here's What Tech Companies are Doing to Boost Voting

With millions of their users eligible to vote but preferring to sit out elections, Silicon Valley companies are pulling out all their technological stops to help educate their customers on ballot measures and candidates — and then get them out there to do their civic duty.

by Patrick May, Mercury News / November 2, 2018
(Shutterstock)

(TNS) —— Free Uber rides to the polls. Election updates from Snapchat. In-app voter registration from Tinder. And paid time off for workers at Dropbox to go cast their vote.

With millions of their users eligible to vote but preferring to sit out elections, Silicon Valley companies are pulling out all their technological stops to help educate their customers on ballot measures and candidates — and then get them out there to do their civic duty.

The efforts are bipartisan and all over the map, from educational campaigns, designed to enlighten their users, to engagement drives like social-dating app Bumble's "I am a voter" badge that people can add to their profile as a way to connect with others of like mind.

The push makes sense, since a large swath of these companies' customers are millennials who for the first time this November will make up the largest group of voters in U.S. history. On its website, Bumble points out that a recent Gallup poll suggests that only a quarter of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 say they're certain they'll go to the polls in next week's midterm elections.

"Bumble wants to help flip that statistic," says the company. "We believe young people — all young people, regardless of political leanings — are the future. But it's our responsibility to show up to the ballot box if we want a real stake in the future of the country."

According to a Pew Research Center study on the 2014 midterm elections, the most common excuse people gave for not voting was that doing so would have conflicted with work or school, according to a blog post on Zenefits' website. "U.S. Census Bureau data of reasons people choose not to vote in 2016 election cycle paints a more nuanced picture, though," said the post. "Being 'too busy' or having a 'conflicting schedule' was the third most cited reasons people gave for not voting at 14 percent, behind not liking the candidates or issues (25 percent) and a general lack of interest (15 percent)."

Hundreds of companies across the country now give their employees paid time off to vote, including GoFundMe in Redwood City, Calif., and Hustle, a texting-platform startup based in San Francisco. Each state has its own laws about workers being compensated for taking time off their workday to vote; in California, employers by law must give workers enough time to vote either at the start or the end of their workday but can also agree to time during the shift. Employers in California are required to only pay for up to two hours of time off.

Here are some of the efforts by tech companies to engage voters and to get out them to the polls next Tuesday:

Lyft

Getting voters to the polls is a tall order: A 2014 Pew Research Center study found that in the 2014 midterms 10 percent of registered voters never made it to the polls because of "technical difficulties," with transportation being high on that list. Ride-sharing company Lyft joined up with Rock the Vote in 2014 and, two years later with Voto Latino, to get the electorate to where they needed to be on election day. This time around, the company says it's working with Vote.org, Nonprofit Vote, Turbo Vote and others to distribute ride-discount votes to those in need.

"We're committed to providing 50% off rides across the country, and free rides to underserved communities that face significant obstacles to transportation," Lyft said in a release. "We'll also have a product integration to help passengers find their polling location."

Lyft also says it will provide free rides to the polls for underserved communities through partnerships with voter nonprofits, local Urban League affiliates, the National Federation of the Blind, Faith in Action, League of Women Voters and the Student Vets of America.

Tinder

Recognizing that the vast majority of its users are under the age of 30, dating app Tinder is teaming up with the voter-participation nonprofit Rock the Vote to whip young people into a voting frenzy. Tinder is offering in-app voter registration along with the slogan "Swipe the Vote" to show users the importance of civic engagement. This effort builds upon Tinder's 2016 initiative that allowed users to swipe left or right on candidates to find out which ones matched up best with their own personal views.

"Millions of people use Tinder, and this year we wanted to help educate and mobilize these young voters by sharing relevant facts and stats related to voting and making it easy for them to register through the app," Tinder Chief Marketing Officer Jenny Campbell told USA Today.

Zenifits

Also based in San Francisco, this firm has been an early leader among tech companies when it comes to making it easy for its employees to vote. 

Bumble

The social-dating app is teaming up with a public awareness campaign called "I Am a Voter" to push for greater participation by Americans in the electoral system. They've created a new badge option to a user's Bumble profile which will let people to signal to others that they're democratically aware and ready to take part in the voting process.

Says Bumble, "add the 'I am a voter' badge to your profile to let your potential matches know you're committed to casting your ballot in the midterm elections on November 6th. We hope this will lead to interesting, impassioned — but civil! — conversations." And the app makes it incredibly easy to register by simply going over to IAmAVoter.com or texting VOTER to 26797 to register to vote in two minutes.

"This is less about taking any particular stance on an issue and much more about helping our user base understand the importance of voter registration and showing up to the polls and doing what we can to highlight just how important that is," Sarah Jones Simmer, chief operating officer at Bumble, told USA Today.

Uber

In an announcement, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said that his company wants to support people who "are going the extra mile to support our democratic process. At Uber, we want to do our part, too — by helping voters register and get to the polls on Election Day. Using our technology and resources, we can help make it easier for every Uber rider in the U.S. to get to their polling place at the push of a button. We're also partnering with nonprofit organizations to register voters before state deadlines and provide free rides to the polls on November 6."

Uber also said this week that its latest app update will include a button that not only shows you your polling place but provides a $10 promo code that can be used on a single ride to the polls on Express Pool, Pool or UberX.

©2018 The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.