Can an iPhone Keep Election Officials From Blocking Your Vote?

<a href="http://zumapress.com">Emily Rose Bennett</a>/ZUMA Press

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.

This fall, restrictive new voting laws in more than a dozen states could keep millions of people from exercising their constitutional right to vote. ID and birth certificate requirements, restrictions on early voting, and shutdowns on election day registration happen to affect non-rich, non-white, non-middle-aged, non-male voters most. This flurry of regulatory activity could confound Jane and John Q. Public: how are citizens supposed to know whether they need an ID, license plate number, proof of insurance, blood sample and baptism certificate in order to cast their vote? The answer might be in the interwebs.

The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law has partnered with a bunch of other voting rights groups to launch a free downloadable “Election Protection” app that will allow voters to verify their registration status, fill out a voter registration form, look up their polling place, and access info on key rules and dates tailored to their state. Users are also prompted to call Election Protection’s hotline to alert the organization to election day abnormalities or concerns.

You might be thinking: Mother Jones writer, you are a privileged white girl, oblivious to the fact that poor people don’t have fancyphones! Actually, about half of cell phone users in the US have smartphones, and a 2011 Pew study found that blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites to use their phones for “non-voice” applications. Election Protection is also helpful not just for the poor, but for the scatter-brained, the nomadic, and those who don’t have the time to take a day off and parse all the new rules.

Since the app launched on August 9, it hasn’t gotten much press. So I asked Eric Marshall, legal mobilization manager at the Lawyers Committee, how they and their partners plan to get it out into people’s hands. He said they’ll do online ads and a social media blitz, but mostly he emphasized “shoe leather”: getting partner groups active on civil rights, voter engagement, youth, labor, environmental, and faith issues to spread the message.

Good old-fashioned word-of-mouth is especially key for the old folks, Marshall says. “I download it and I check my info, and then there’s no reason I can’t then go to my grandmother and get her info,” he says, “or go to church and say, ‘Hey, do you know your rights on election day? Let’s look up your registration status.'”

Designed by Revolution Messaging, the app is a mobile-enabled webpage for now, and can be downloaded to any smartphone, but Marshall says they’re working on getting it into the iPhone app store. A Spanish version will be out soon.

“You look at the landscape this year and all of the restrictive voting changes that have been enacted,” Marshall says. “People are concerned about eligible Americans being able to participate in democracy.”

Not everyone’s concerned. Pennsylvania’s House Majority leader, Republican Mike Turzai, recently gloated that the state’s new voter ID law “is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

Well, whoever wins, this corner of the internet will help make sure that everyone gets to vote.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.