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Tech Times | Facebook launches first nationwide voter registration drive

Published:Monday | September 26, 2016 | 9:00 AM

SAN FRANCISCO (TNS):

Facebook wants you to get out to vote.

Last Friday, Facebook users in the United States who were 18 and up received a reminder to register to vote at the top of their News Feed.

The voter registration drive, Facebook's first to roll out nationwide, is tapping the power of social media to influence millions of people and their friends, especially young people who are less likely to turn out. The reminder will be sent out over the next four days, Facebook said.

Clicking on the 'Register Now' button sends voters to the federal government's vote.USA.gov, which guides them through the registration process in their state. After registering to vote, users can share their status, a subtle form of social pressure for friends to perform their civic duty, too.

Facebook did not provide an estimate of how many people would see the notification. But the giant social network is taking aim at a consistent pattern of voter apathy. Nearly 35% of US citizens eligible to vote in 2012 were not registered, according to Census data.

"We thought we had a unique ability and responsibility to show people this reminder that they should be checking their registration so they can participate in the election," Katie Harbath, Facebook's director of government outreach, told USA TODAY.

Voter registration drives have come a long way from clipboard-toting volunteers knocking on doors. Facebook has been nudging people to vote since 2008 by posting reminders to head to their polling station on election day. Earlier this year, the Silicon Valley company experimented with a voter drive during the primaries, encouraging people in individual states to register.

That voter registration drive proved Facebook's ability to spur people to action. Nearly 200,000 registered to vote on the California Secretary of State's website after Facebook began a voter registration push in the state in May. Other states reported similar results. A 2012 study by Nature found 340,000 additional voters turned out for the 2010 midterm elections because they saw a reminder to vote on Facebook.

In all, Facebook estimates 1.5 million people were registered as a result of its reminders on Facebook during the primaries.

The Facebook voter registration drive is one of many in the run-up to the election. USA TODAY network launched the web site, VotingBecause.com, which includes access to Rock The Vote registration tools.

Voter registration is managed state by state with each state setting its own deadlines and rules. Some states allow residents to register on election day, others require them to register 30 days in advance.