/Be a geofence The story behind the technology that millennial-led Mississippi Votes uses to help more young Mississippians vote

Be a geofence The story behind the technology that millennial-led Mississippi Votes uses to help more young Mississippians vote

Mississippi Votes recently hired a communications specialist. The Mississippi Votes offices are located in the shadows of the Mississippi Capitol and state Supreme Court buildings. Bennett now seeks to hire a deputy and field director as well as a youth civic engagement coordinator in order to expand the organization’s mission. Bennett describes it as creating a culture that fosters civic engagement that is transformative for a specific electorate. They target people between the ages of 18 and 35, as well as young people who are queer or have been through the juvenile justice system. Mississippi Votes, a fledgling organization that was Bennett’s only employee, has had to grow from its infancy. Bennett is now the sole full-time employee and leads a group of fellows, interns, volunteers, consultants, and other volunteers into their adolescence. The most important factor in this growth would be their smartphones, which are the most common force in young adult’s lives. Bennett was focused on one question: “If an organization is committed to youth leadership, and our central focus in trying to get that particular electorate involved, then the treatment becomes: What can we do to reduce what they consume?” This was a matter of great urgency. A review of voter information from the 2012 presidential election that led to Barack Obama’s second term shows that Mississippi turned out about 60%. This is a decline over 2008. The turnout of young-adult and college-aged voters is much lower than that of the general population. An analysis by the U.S. Census of the national turnout for 2016’s election found that 46 percent of those aged 18 to 29 were least likely to vote. However, this age group was the only one that saw an increase in turnout compared to 2012, at just 1%. As in other states, Mississippi’s turnout in federal elections was lower than in the midterm years. The 2018 midterm elections presented Mississippi, which has the highest African American population, with an unusual scenario. A U.S. Senate race will be open for the first-ever time in Mississippi history. Additionally, 2019 and 2018 will likely be the most important campaigns of the next generation, since Mississippi is one of a few states that elects governors in non-federal years. Mississippi Votes was founded in 2017 with a budget of approximately $50,000. It brought together a small group of students from Mississippi State University, Mississippi State University, and the University of Mississippi to find a way to encourage their peers to vote through their smartphones. One idea was to create Snapchat filters that would allow users to upload photos to the social media app, with the option to add a message about voting. However, this seemed too limited for the goals they had. Bennett is wearing a red cardigan and a black T-shirt with the message “Proudly serving in the War on Injustice” on it. She then said, “Then our data manger said there was a dope tool called Geofencing.” “Geofencing” is an electronic perimeter that uses GPS, radio-frequency identification and allows data to be tracked once it’s attached. This object is a mobile identification, which is an unique number that is associated with a cell phone number, but it is different in order to protect people’s privacy. Geofencing has had many uses over the past 15 years. Verizon introduced geofencing in 2006 to parents as an electronic pet collar that would notify their parents when children traveled outside of predetermined boundaries, such as school or grandma’s house. Geofencing was adopted by retail stores to allow them to ping potential customers with information on sales and special offers when they were in the area. Geofencing has been used by some companies to help them recruit employees. Recently, political campaigns have begun to use geofencing (sometimes called geotargeting) as an advertising tool. Mississippi Votes believes that they are the first state organization to use geofencing in a general get out-the-vote campaign. The foundation for the geofencing campaign was laid by Mississippi Votes, which worked with students on campus to register as many of their peers before the deadlines for voter registration. This resulted in about 3,000 new voters. Zykimbreia, a sophomore nursing major at Southern Mississippi University, said that she learned from students that registering students if it’s possible to do so from the convenience of their phones would result in a large turn out. She worked with Mississippi Votes to help her school’s campus voter registration drive. Mississippi Votes hired an expert in GPS technology to implement a geofencing campaign at nine Mississippi colleges. It worked as follows: When anyone within the “fence”, opened their internet browser, YouTube, Instagram, or Facebook apps, they saw an advertisement from Mississippi Votes that said “Together Let’s Vote November 6.” The button that said “Learn how to Vote” took them to the Mississippi Votes website, prompting them to create a plan to vote for Election Day. The link will open a sample ballot with information about the polling precincts. Bennett stated that users will see an ad on Instagram every 10 to 15 photos they scroll past. According to data shared by Mississippi Today, Jackson State University received the most impressions (approximately 150,000) and saw the most people click on the Mississippi Votes advertisement. Alcorn State University had a higher click-through rate, which is a ratio of clicks per overall impression. Although it’s difficult to discern any patterns from the data, Bennett believes that the numbers show a significant trend. This prompts a crucial question. She notes that impressions were higher in schools with polling sites near or on campus. Tougaloo College, which has a total of 793 undergraduate students, was the school with the highest number of impressions. It is one small school where Mississippi Votes uses geofencing. Bennett stated that “either way, their impressions were rather high.” “So how can we begin talking to people about what it takes for a precinct to be on all campuses?” The runoff of the Nov. 6 U.S. Senate Election resulted in a heated contest between Sen. Cindy Hyde Smith, a Republican incumbent and former Clinton-era cabinet Secretary Mike Espy. The contest, which was the last Senate seat left in the nation, was shaping up to be one the most important political stories in America and would likely dominate the airwaves. Mississippi Votes had the opportunity to extend their geofencing campaign for the general election. It costs $30,000 and will be extended for the runoff. The most important thing was that the extension allowed the group to collect more data in a three-week period, which included Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Many students will be on campus for the holidays, and many voters may tune out any political information. Geofencing allows users to be tracked outside the fence. Bennett stated that they still saw Mississippi Votes ads about the runoff election when they returned home from Thanksgiving. She laughed and said, “We grab you mobile ID, we don’t let go. We are stalking you. It’s creepy, right? She said that the hope is that students will feel that Mississippi Votes instills a sense of self determination in participating in an electoral process that doesn’t consider other groups, rather than raising suspicions about “we’re just trying to get your mobile IDs.” Bennett stated that the best thing she could say was that we are trying to foster a culture for civic engagement and keep you informed about what’s going on in your life. Evidence shows that voters in the state still remember the election. Many observers expected a decrease in turnout for the runoff election between Espy & Hyde-Smith. However, the turnout was only slightly lower. About 55,000 fewer votes (890,000.) were cast on Nov. 27 than the previous week, when 945,000 people had voted. Mississippi Votes received roughly the same number and quality of impressions over those three weeks. However, more people viewed their voter information video than before. A third less people clicked on the video for more information. The campaign saw 900,000 impressions, about 270,000 video views, and 1,570 visitors to the website. Nathan Schrader is a Jackson political science professor and echoes concerns Bennett expressed about geofencing. Organizations could risk oversaturating customers if it’s misused. It is a technology that has a place for more than just telling people how to vote. He said that he believes there is a tremendous social and civic benefit. Bennett’s urgency to fill these jobs comes partly from Mississippi being one of three states that will hold gubernatorial election in 2019. This is along with Kentucky, Louisiana and Louisiana. Mississippians will also elect six additional statewide officeholders. There are almost 200 members of the state House, Senate, and regional commission positions. This is 2018 on steroids, a more important campaign. Bennett said that last year was about dispelling myths about youth laziness and apathy. Mississippi Votes conducted live calls last year in which volunteers sought young voters’ opinions on a range of issues. Although they agreed that health care was important, callers were more interested in discussing access to reproductive health and birth control. “Youth in the state are more concerned about issues than they are about politics, regardless of whether you believe it or not.” She said that it is not that young people aren’t interested in being involved in electoral politics. It’s just that no one is talking to the issues they care about. Ella Lawson is a second-year student at Ole Miss who studies Arabic, international studies, and classics. Lawson stated that she gets mad when people call her lazy voters. “There are so few barriers to making it easy and accessible.” To register to vote in Mississippi, applicants must have a Mississippi driver’s license number. You will need a photo ID, a current utility bill, bank statement or any other document that lists your name and the address of the county you are registering in, if you don’t already have one. The last year’s runoff election highlighted the complicated absentee voting process. It required voters to submit a notarized ballot application, wait for a county clerk and then have that ballot notarized before it was sent back to them before the deadline. It was especially difficult for college students to vote absentee. “Many people visit school to register to vote. However, they don’t have an address within the county. It’s a quandary,” Lawson said. Leah Smith stated that voters should provide a physical address within the county they plan to vote in so that local election officials can assign them a precinct. The voter’s mailing address does not need to be within the county. Smith explained that if the voter is not in a specific area with street or house numbers, the voter registration application allows the voter to include a drawing of the location so local election officials can determine the correct precinct. Mississippi Votes hopes that the data they have collected will help to simplify on-campus voting. Bennett spoke out about the widespread nature of geofencing. “But I only had one complaint. Someone stated, “Mississippi Votes does the thing. I discovered that I am not allowed to vote at this site, but I am supposed to vote here.” Bennett stated that the group is still considering a geofencing campaign this year. It might be more targeted and therefore more costly to certain times of the day. She said that the group is still reviewing the data and has many more questions than answers. Is it possible to increase the engagement of this electorate by having a voting precinct? What can we do to get more from the impressions? She asks, “If you click on our advertisement, how long are you spending on our website to find information?” The question is simple: “Are people learning?” This article clarifies the process for voters who live in areas that do not have street names or house numbers.