It’s easy enough to say you’re going to the polls, but nobody is really tracking whether you cast your ballot — until now. Two new political apps, VoteWithMe and OutVote, will help you see if your friends voted and what their party affiliations are. Both apps were designed to help you encourage your friends and family to vote in the midterm election, as first reported by The New York Times.
How your friends voted in previous elections remains secret, but their voting histories are not. The two apps take information from public government records and make it more easily accessible. Now, instead of having to look up each of your friends to see if they’ve voted, you only need to sync your phone contacts.
The makers of the apps are hoping that social pressure to vote will increase turnout. If your friends have missed an election in the past, the year will show up with a slash across it. VoteWithMe adds a fire emoji next to those with near-perfect records, while OutVote gives them a heart eyes emoji. With both apps, you can send prewritten messages to your contacts, such as “You gonna vote?”
VoteWithMe claims that reminding friends and family through texts is up to 20 times more effective than “knocking on doors.” It also encourages you to message those who didn’t vote in the last midterm election and those who live in areas that are more contentious, along with information about who’s on the ballot and who is predicted to win.
VoteWithMe was made by a nonprofit called the New Data Project that was started by people in the Obama administration. By default, it shows the Democrats on your contact list, rather than all parties; you’ll have to toggle to see every affiliation. OutVote received seed funding from YCombinator, and it accepts fees from political groups to use its app in campaigns.
There are privacy downsides to using the apps. OutVote harvests personal data, including email addresses, physical addresses, and company names, and you can’t control whether your contacts use the app and harvest your information as a result. VoteWithMe previously collected personal data, but after The New York Times inquired, it ended the practice.
Beyond privacy, there might be an uncomfortable element to discovering your friends’ party affiliations and finding out who’s a Republican in a blue state or a Democrat in a red state. Although that’s all information that was available before, the easy access to syncing all your contacts exposes these affiliations more directly. What’s more, it appears that the information the apps pull isn’t up-to-date with last-minute registration changes. A party affiliation change made in the last month, for instance, won’t appear on the app.