The election to end all elections is 47 days away. Have you registered to vote?
With state deadlines for voter registration just weeks away, HelloVote, which purports to be a nonpartisan project from digital rights nonprofit Fight for the Future, wants to empower the entire U.S. electorate to cast its vote. The best way to do that in 2016—when text messages have a 98% open rate and the average adult spends 23 hours a week texting—is with a bot that lets potential voters register through text or Facebook Messenger.
According to HelloVote, census data indicates that 33% of total eligible voters are not registered, and some groups are particularly underrepresented: About 40% of potential Latino voters and voters aged 18-24 are not registered, while 50% of eligible voters without a college degree are not registered. “We’re trying to reach low propensity voters who have been on the sidelines but who are texting daily,” HelloVote cofounder Tiffiniy Cheng tells Fast Company.
Here’s how the bot works: Go to hello.vote or directly text 384-387 to initiate a text conversation. (You can also search for HelloVote on Facebook Messenger if you prefer.) Created in tandem with Twilio.org, the bot will take care of the rest by requesting pertinent information, like your name, address, and birthdate. In some cases—depending on which state you are registering in—HelloVote may send you a prepaid, stamped envelope and request a signature on the registration form, which will already be filled out with the information provided via the bot.
Handing over personal information to a text bot may set off alarm bells. HelloVote cofounder Elana Berkowitz insists all the data is encrypted and that HelloVote does not store any of the sensitive information users provide. The only data HelloVote files away, Berkowitz says, is what the bot needs to “reach back out to you and say, for instance, Election Day is tomorrow, and here is your polling location.”
HelloVote has recruited a number of launch partners—Genius, Refinery29, General Assembly, West Elm, the Shade Room—to help spread the word about the bot, be it with physical signage in stores or through customized widgets online. (The brands do not have access to sensitive information, though they can reach out to users and give them follow-up information about polling locations and other voter information.) Along with Cheng and Berkowitz, HelloVote names tech strategist Josh Levinger and Fight for the Future execs Jeff Lyon and Holmes Wilson as cofounders.