Invasive 'Vote With Me' App Could Be an Effective GOTV Weapon for Democrats
An invasive new mobile app developed by former Obama appointees and pushed by Democrats to "nudge" fellow Democrats to the polls is creeping folks the heck out. But it could be the secret GOTV weapon that helps Democrats retake the House.
The app, Vote With Me, accesses every contact in the user's phone and shows their entire voting history, how they’re registered, and whether they’re eligible to vote in a swing district. It does this by syncing users’ phone contact lists with information from public voter files.
The app was tested last spring with stunning results.
“The whole purpose of the app is really to get your friends out to vote,” says Sarah Sullivan, a former senior writer for President Obama who is now deputy executive director of The New Data Project, a nonprofit founded last year that developed the app. “It’s about making sure that you’re prepared, and it’s about building trust.”
The nonprofit’s executive director is Mikey Dickerson, the former Google engineer who was the first head of the US Digital Service, or Obama’s “trauma team” that saved HealthCare.gov after Obamacare launched in 2013. When their terms as White House staffers ended on Inauguration Day in 2017, Dickerson, along with Sullivan and other members of the trauma team, decided to create the nonprofit.
This past spring, the team conducted a pre-launch randomized trial during Conor Lamb’s successful run for Congress and showed that texts sent through VoteWithMe were as much as 20 times more effective than stranger-to-stranger, “get out the vote” methods. The success of this trial encouraged the team to focus primarily on developing and releasing VoteWithMe in time for November’s critical election.
Shockingly, there is no expectation of privacy for anyone who is targeted by the app. Internet researcher "Rosie Memos" expressed dismay on Twitter after getting "bullied" at work by a user of the app:
Compliant Democrats are encouraged to use the information to nudge their contacts to vote. The app will actually write the text messages to their contacts for them.
The developers of Vote With Me wave off concerns that this is an invasion of privacy by saying that it's all public information.
While it may be true that the information is public, most people don't spend their spare time researching the voting habits of all their acquaintances. That would be super creepy and inappropriate. So is this app.
"Rosie Memos," a single female who works in the entertainment industry, told PJ Media that someone stormed up to her and said with disgust: "'YOU’RE A F**KING REPUBLICAN?" She said she told the woman that she was indeed a Republican but "it wasn’t really their business." That's when the woman showed her the Vote With Me app.
"It’s just nasty, for no reason," Rosie said. "Political prejudice is real."
BuzzFeed's Katie Notopoulos tried the app and found the experience unsettling.
In theory, public voter records are a standard-issue, value-neutral piece of civic life. But as I scrolled through my contacts, I found this wasn’t the case. I sat with a friend who told me about the app, and as we gawked at our phones, comparing surprises we found, it felt a lot like we were lurking on something forbidden and secret.
(There was a friend who is very vocal about his political opinions on Facebook who I discovered didn’t vote in 2016. 🤔🤔🤔🤔)
She found friends who she assumed were registered with one party were actually registered to another. We snarkily rolled our eyes at mutual friends who we discovered rarely voted. She also discovered that an acquaintance who is a prominent woman in feminist and political circles had skipped out on the 2016 general election after voting in the primary.
The app isn't perfect, apparently. Notopoulos said she noticed that it said she didn't vote in an election she knew she voted in.
Mikey Dickerson told BuzzFeed News that he understood his app might seem a bit creepy to some people, but wasn't concerned about it. “Establishing the social norm of voting is important enough that a little bit of discomfort is warranted. It feels new because it hasn’t been easy to have [voter records] publicly viewed before, but we think that’s for the public good.”
Notopoulos wasn't convinced. "I dunno, man. This app feels weird," she said.
Dickerson explained how the app works to Cenk Uygur on the left-wing online news show "The Young Turks."
After accessing all of an individual's voter information, the user can contact the person using pre-filled messages provided by the app, he explained.
"But you can edit them to be whatever you want to say, such as, 'hey knucklehead, go vote,'" he added. "Some other people might want to use different words so they can customize it as they want."
"Yeah, I imagine so," Uygur chuckled.
It's easy to see how this thing could quickly become a vehicle for harassment and intimidation.