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Register to Vote On the Internet? Why Not Register to Vote on Social Media?

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Good news. Finally, 10 years after other states began to permit online voter registration, you can register to vote on the Internet in California. The online registration form is now live.

It took a lot of hard work to reach this milestone, and this represents real progress for the state. 

It's especially a big deal for California counties, which administer elections. They were the main reason it took until 2012 to do something that was technically feasible more than a decade ago.

But hold the champagne. The wait for online voter registration was so long that its value seems diminished.

The real frontier for the state should not be a simple online form. It should be registration on social media.

There are huge advantages to allowing people to submit registration forms via social media. For one thing, social media services such as Facebook are the way most people spend time online. Young people, who register and vote in relatively low numbers, use social media in high numbers (though not as high as we sometimes think).

More importantly, registration on social media would be social. We could see when our friends register. And new research suggests that making registration social would encourage registration.

Recently, scientists from Facebook and the University of California at San Diego found that social media can have a measurable effect on voter turnout.

In an experiment conducted on Facebook on election day in November 2010, voters on Facebook received a variety of different messages: urging them to get out the vote; a link to local polling place; an option to click an "I Voted" button with a counter of Facebook members who had voted; and pictures of the Facebook user's friends who had reported voting.

The experiment found that showing friends who had voted produced more votes. Essentially, if you knew your friends were voting, it would encourage you to.

It stands to reason that voter registration might work the same way.

There's no legal bar to doing things this way. Voter registration is not a private record; it's a public document. And people often fill out registration forms in public places. So why not do it on social media?

Let's hope it doesn't take as long to get there as it did to get to online registration.

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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