On 11 September 2014, St. Petersburg College President Dr. William Law announced a partnership with TurboVote, the first project of Democracy Works Incorporated, a nonprofit working to use modern technology to create engaged voters.
In an interview with Forbes in 2013, TurboVote co-founder Seth Flaxman said “. . . If our democracy was frictionless and designed around the citizen then participation would increase, our government would be more representative, and special interests and insiders would have less influence.”
TurboVote is free for St. Petersburg College students, thanks to support from the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions. The web-based program provides everything a student needs to register, get a vote-by-mail ballot, and receive text message and email reminders of upcoming elections. It only takes a minute to set up, and students who get registered before 6 October will be able to take part in the midterm election on November 4th.
There has never been a time when innovation was needed more. Voter participation among young people, those aged 18 to 24, has been in decline since the early 1960s according to the U.S. Census Office (PDF link). In the 1964 election, that demographic had a nationwide turnout of 50.9 percent. In 2008, a record year for youth participation, only 44.3 percent turned out to vote. In the 2012 election, participation had dropped to a mere 38 percent. Those aged 25 to 44 also saw a substantial drop in participation from 1964 voter participation numbers, dropping from 69 percent in 1964 to 55 percent in 2008, and 49.5 percent in 2012. While young people stayed home, senior citizens turned out in droves. 1964 was the low point for those aged 65 and above at 66 percent, in 2012 the turnout was 69.7 percent. Local elections fare much worse. In the 2013 Pinellas County municipal election 31.5 percent of all registered voters turned up at the polls, and only 1,805 of the 71,262 votes cast were by those aged 18-25. Today’s youth face challenges undreamt of by their parents and grandparents, from online privacy to how to regulate self-driving automobiles, and their voices are not being heard by elected officials.
The Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at St. Petersburg College works to drive civic engagement through their free programs on SPC campuses and by providing seats reserved for students at their Village Square events. They are responsible for bringing together TurboVote and the college after seeing the success of the program at Miami-Dade Community College and Tallahassee Community College, where TurboVote was responsible for thousands of new registered voters. David Klement, the Institute’s executive director, worked with the Florida College System to bring the program to colleges across the state, including St. Petersburg College. Klement said, “This program is part of our statewide mission to promote civic engagement, and I saw this as opportunity to fulfill that mission.”
The Institute also works to inform voters on the issues through events like their series of debates on the Greenlight Pinellas referendum on this year’s ballot. The final debate in the series will be held in ES 104 on Clearwater campus on 30 September at 6 PM. They will host a local candidate’s debate on October 2nd at 5:30 PM in the Seminole campus Digitorium, and will be holding a watch party for the televised debate between Governor Rick Scott and Charlie Crist on October 15 on Seminole campus at 6:30 PM.
Sam Novey, the partnerships director at TurboVote, said that TurboVote is a natural complement to existing voter registration efforts on campus. The program benefits existing voters with election reminders and absentee ballots. Schools set up links to the program in places where students go online and on campus to make it easy for students to vote. Miami-Dade Community College has tied TurboVote into registration, and at Tallahassee Community College the program is part of the college library. According to Novey, this is only the beginning for TurboVote. They are currently piloting a program in ten counties nationwide that allows voters to track their absentee ballot just as they would a purchase from Amazon. At St. Petersburg College, students can find links to TurboVote on the main college page, on the webpage for the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions, and on the social media feeds for many campus organizations. Among the organizations promoting TurboVote are: the SPC Seminole Environmental Science club, SPC Seminole Gamers (disclosure, this reporter writes for the gaming club blog, and social feeds) club, and this newspaper.
The SPC Seminole Environmental Science club used Amendment One, the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, an effort to improve conservation efforts in Florida on this year’s ballot, as an example of the importance of voting. SPC Seminole Gamers discussed the multitude of legislation presented before Congress, the Florida State Legislature, and local governments over the past twenty years that could have had a dramatic impact on the first amendment rights of gamers and game developers. This newspaper supports voter registration efforts, as voter participation is the pulse of a healthy democracy.
Students can register to vote, get an absentee ballot, and more from TurboVote via their St. Petersburg College sign up page. October 6, 2014 is the registration deadline for participation in this year’s general election.