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Where to Vote, Via Text Message

No idea where your polling station is? Some two million people didn’t vote in 2008 for that reason alone. This handy new tool will give you the 411.

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You now officially have no excuse for not voting on Tuesday. Mobile Commons has created the Mobile Polling Place Locator, an SMS service that tells you where your polling station is. Just text “where” to 30644. (You can also text “donde” to get your answer in Spanish.) The system, which is free, will reply, asking for your home address. Give it to them, and it’ll send back your polling location.

According to a report from the New Organizing Institute, about 1.9 million people didn’t vote in 2008 just because they didn’t know where to go. People move. And even when they don’t, polling stations often do. Not everyone has Internet access. And even when they do, they don’t always know where to go to find their voting information. But, notes Ben Stein, Mobile Commons’ CTO, 93% of people have mobile phones. And data shows that when people get text messages reminding them to vote, participation goes up by 4-5%. While the Mobile Polling Place Locator won’t remind you to vote, Stein says, given that data, it’s reasonable to expect that a text message about where to go will similarly increase turnout.

The idea of an SMS service for polling information seems like a no-brainer. But until now, something like this was essentially out of reach. Information about polling locations is maintained by individual election boards across the country. Creating a single database of all that information has been required super-human effort, not the least because it was all maintained in different formats.

The nonpartisan Voting Information Project, a program of the Pew Center on the States, gathered all that data, standardized it into a single format, and now is making it available—for free—for anyone to use. Google, for example, is using it this year for its Election Center app. Mobile Commons, a mobile marketing services company that works with many public agencies and non-profits, is grabbing that data and using it for the Locator. They’re also giving the technology to their clients, some of whom may use it to create their own, branded version of the service, to mobilize their own constituencies.

A final note: If you’re worried about sending your home address to Mobile Commons, Stein assured us they are not harvesting the data in any way. Of course, ultimately, there’s only one way to guarantee your privacy — at the ballot box.

About the author

E.B. Boyd (@ebboyd) has holed up in conference rooms with pioneers in Silicon Valley and hunkered down in bunkers with soldiers in Afghanistan.

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