It’s now easier than ever to register to vote over the web: Google is the latest tech powerhouse to support online registration with TurboVote, a slick step-by-step portal that conveniently mails US citizens a mostly-filled out registration card, along with a pre-printed envelope. However, experimental research into the impact of such online registration systems [PDF] finds that they actually decrease registration. Apparently, the ease of the online process lulls citizens into complacency and they forget to follow through with the rest of the process. The unfortunate drawback can be offset with SMS reminders, which TurboVote encourages. So, depending on the number of people comfortable giving Google their digits, this well-intentioned experiment could backfire.
In the study, researchers Elizabeth Bennion and David Nickerson randomly assigned 260,000 students on 26 campuses to receive an email invitation to register to vote online and verified whether they later registered through an independent database. “Unfortunately, the cost of follow-through is higher than the cost of registering via other avenues,” the report finds, with a 0.3% decrease in actual register for the group that was invited to register online. The counter-intuitive results reveal that noble attempts to make registration more tempting for young citizens could backfire.
In light of the results, youth vote advocacy organization, Rock-the-Vote, found that SMS reminders to finish the paperwork could (slightly) reverse the results, boosting completed registration in the SMS group by 4%.
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