Facebook targets users with local election reminders

When people checked their Facebook accounts during previous national elections, they may have noticed reminders on their news feeds telling them to go out and vote.

Now, the social networking site has turned its sights onto smaller municipal elections, including the one Tuesday in Burbank.

The effort comes as a way to increase voter turnout for elections with historically low participation, according to Facebook spokesperson Alec Gerlach.

“The turnout for mayoral elections between 1999 and 2011 is somewhere between 18% and 27%,” he said. “That’s significantly lower than a midterm or presidential election.”

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The statistic comes from a study commissioned by the Knight Foundation that looked at low voter turnout of people between the ages of 20 to 34 in mayoral elections.

Gerlach said election reminders are sent to specific users based on several criteria, including where they list their current city of residence and if they previously used Facebook to register to vote.

A reminder then pops up on a user’s news feed informing them that there may be an election in their area and where they can go online to find out more information.

Users can also share that they voted in the election as a sort of “digital version of the ‘I Voted’ sticker,” Gerlach said.

Facebook officials hope that, by placing the reminders before and on the day of an election, it can hike the participation rate, according to Gerlach.

Zizette Mullins, Burbank’s city clerk, said she was unaware of the website’s election notifications but welcomed any and all efforts that get people out to the polls.

“To remind people of an election, of course, is always the right thing to do,” Mullins said.

The notifications first started in late-March of this year and have since been rolled out to hundreds of local elections across the country in jurisdictions with more than 10,000 people, Gerlach said. Notifications were sent to voters in Glendale during its municipal election last week.

Gerlach said it’s too soon to tell what impact the notifications will have on turnout for local elections, but the company has been credited with bringing out an additional 300,000 voters with its reminders during the 2010 national midterm elections.

“We’re hoping for a really positive impact,” Gerlach said.


Twitter: @Andy_Truc

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