Information & Resource Service
Vote.org uses technology to simplify political engagement and increase voter turnout. In 2020 Vote.org built a chat service to engage Latino voters on the WhatsApp platform and provide access to the information and tools they needed to exercise their right to vote.
Vote.org is driven by a belief that participation is essential to a healthy and thriving democracy - and that most Americans want to participate in their democracy, but are left out because they lack the trust, information and time to do so. The organisation believes that when voters have accurate information surrounding the voting process, they are able to make their voices heard in every election.
Working with WhatsApp and Turn.io, Vote.org launched a first-of-its-kind bilingual voter resource tool focused on engaging Latino voters on the WhatsApp platform. This was especially important during a pandemic year when more people were at home. But, beyond the 2020 election, the chat service ensures that English and Spanish-speaking users have the most up-to-date information to participate in every election - especially important in a country where voter information is always shifting, requiring ongoing evolution and expansion of content available.
Andrea Hailey, CEO of Vote.org
During America’s 2020 election cycle, Vote.org identified its biggest challenge as reaching individuals with trusted information. In particular this meant reaching young people and people of colour. The challenge was greatly exacerbated by COVID-19 when life stresses were magnified - and also at a time when there was an unprecedented rise in mis-and-disinformation, particularly about the election, among an increased need for vote by mail and the changing environment across states.
Vote.org is driven by a belief that technology, when wielded strategically for good, can drastically expand access. Voting is no different - in fact, at least in the United States, voting systems are antiquated and different from state to state, so there is a lot of room for technology and innovation.
Due to the pandemic, Vote.org had to pivot during the 2020 election in a number of ways, and technology became more important in its business than ever. Programmes and campaigns from across the country, that typically do door knocking and on the ground organising, requested help from Vote.org in helping them go digital - adding to a need for the organisation to meet voters where they are with trusted information in their native language.
Bringing Vote.org’s trusted and nonpartisan information and resources to Latino voters through an easily accessible and dedicated tool
As a growing part of the American electorate, Vote.org needed to find new and innovative ways to serve Latino voters. The organisation knew that WhatsApp was a great way to do this. Based on research, the organisation estimated that around half of the US Hispanic population was using WhatsApp at least monthly in 2020. The platform’s US Hispanic user base of 32 million was growing because of its data cost savings, messaging encryption capabilities and popularity in Latin American countries.
Building a chat service enabled Vote.org to bring its trusted and nonpartisan voter information and resources to meet Latino users where they were. Through the service, over 148 000 messages were sent to over 31 000 unique users.
Vote.org worked closely with the WhatsApp and Turn teams over the course of several months to map out and build the exact flow and user experience of interacting with Vote.org information, tools, and resources on the platform, including translating the entire chat platform experience into Spanish.
The most time-consuming work for the Vote.org team and its partners came in mapping the content and translating it into the service. Once the tool went live, maintenance was easier, coordinating with the Turn.io team to flag any edits and updates that needed to be made as they came up.
Seamlessly accessing Vote.org’s non-partisan and trusted resources
The interactive service is available in both English and Spanish and allows users to seamlessly access Vote.org’s tools, check election information for their state, find answers to commonly asked questions around voter registration, rules and deadlines, and get critical information about their right to vote.
An important feature of the WhatsApp experience is that users click out to Vote.org to use the latter’s tools: there is no in-app integration of the tools themselves. No voter information is gathered or provided directly on the platform. Instead the service refers voters over to Vote.org to actually complete the tool workflows.
In the complex 2020 election cycle, the information voters needed to know was rapidly changing, and the format of the service, along with help from Turn.io, allowed Vote.org to very quickly serve voters with new and updated information.
The service was a great organising tool for reaching Spanish-speaking voters and was well-received by groups on the ground who work directly with Latino voters and who see the power and opportunity of WhatsApp as an under-utilised organising tool in their communities. Additionally, working with partners to help them leverage the tool in their work enabled Vote.org to learn from them about how to make the service an even more useful resource going forward.
Dramatic rise in registration and voting by Latino voters
Alongside building the chat service, Vote.org itself translated its tools into Spanish, built a digital functionality to help people print and mail their mail-in ballot requests, and supported more voters than it had in previous years combined. With the interactive service able to fully engage voters in Spanish in the 2020 election, this was the most seamless way for Spanish-speakers to experience Vote.org tools and resources in their native language.
The 2020 election marked the first time that Latino voters made up the largest racial and ethnic minority group in the electorate, comprising over 13% of eligible voters. WhatsApp continues to be a premier platform reaching Latino voters and Vote.org believes it’s critical to meaningfully scale the work of the organisation in 2022 and beyond.
The 2020 election saw a dramatic rise in registration and voting by some 18.7 million Latinos, so that approximately 1 in 10 voters was Latino. The big forces behind what the City University of New York (CUNY) researchers described as the “extraordinary” Latino participation were record registration and turnout by younger Latinos ages 18 to 44, and a jump in the registration and voting by U.S.-born Latinos.
Expanding reach with ‘Power Is In Your Hands’ campaign
To help Vote.org further reach its target audience with information about the service, the organisation further worked with WhatsApp to launch a bilingual creative campaign featuring Walter Mercado, who is a beloved figure in the Latino community. It has always been important to Vote.org to use voices that reflect the communities it serves, and this campaign, called the Power Is In Your Hands, featured videos from the late Mercado encouraging voters to make their voices heard while discussing their star signs and giving love to voters.
Today, voter suppression looks different than it did in the 1960s. Today, voter suppression looks like polling places closing and long lines at the polls, heavily concentrated in communities of colour. Today, voter suppression looks like unnecessary restrictions on vote by mail during a global pandemic.
Built to be scalable, the Vote.org WhatsApp chat service continues to engage voters by meeting them where they are. Vote.org believes that continuing to improve and expand the service is an incredibly important service to provide for American voters.
Although the major spike due to the Power is in Your Hands marketing campaign and general interest due to the election means day-to-day engagement is not what it was in 2020, Vote.org aims to have millions of users on the service as the 2022 midterm elections approach, and then into the 2024 presidential election. Among its ideas to get there are:
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