Washington State “likes” Facebook voter registration

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While states like Florida are trying to make it harder and harder to vote - at least for some - the state of Washington has taken another tack: it is going out of its way to make registration easier and will become the first state in the nation to allow people to register to vote through Facebook.

"In this age of social media and more people going online for services, this is a natural way to introduce people to online registration and leverage the power of friends on Facebook to get more people registered," Shane Hamlin, the state's elections co-director, told the Associated Press.

According to the AP report, users of the social networking website will simply go to the Secretary of State's Facebook page, and click on the voter registration link at the upper left, MyVote. The technology, developed by Facebook and Microsoft, will enable users to register to vote without giving Facebook access to sensitive information, like drivers license or Social Security numbers.

Washington State is so enthusiastic about pulling more citizens into the voting process that it is encouraging those who register on Facebook to "like" and "share" the voting application with others, potentially increasing voter registration by an exponential amount.

Washington is one of 13 states that offer online registration, and has done so since 2008. Since then, 475,000 people have registered or changed their addresses online. According to the Secretary of State's website, the state has 3,721,647 registered voters, meaning that 12.7 percent either registered or updated their registration on line.

In most other states, the voter registration process is still in the 20th century, using a clunky process by which applicants must fill out an application card, mail it to the local board of elections, and then wait for another piece of mail showing that they are registered to vote.

Such moves to make registration easier could bode well for President Barack Obama's election campaign, as well as those of other Democrats. While Facebook has been embraced by all sectors of the population, it is particularly popular among younger voters, who tend to vote more liberal and more Democratic. Nonetheless Facebook is used by people and organizations of all political stripes, with everyone from the Communist Party USA to the National Review having a Facebook page.

Many argue that Washington State's actions are a step in the direction of securing a fundamental civil right currently under assault. In a number of states, from the South and Midwest even to New England, restrictive voter ID laws are being passed. Civil rights advocates say these laws amount to a new poll tax aimed at keeping African Americans, Latinos, youth and seniors away from the polls.

In addition to registration, voters will be able to use the Washington State MyVote app to find information about candidates and ballot questions.

Photo: Franco Bouly // CC 2.0

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