College Student Wants To Make Voting Easier For Cellphone-Using Peers

Alaskans 18 to 24 are the age group least likely to vote. About a third of them aren’t registered – and of those who are, fewer than half actually come out on Election Day. But a college freshman from Juneau would like to change that by making the whole process a little more convenient for those in school. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports on a new voter registration site for cell phone users.

Listen now:

Stephen Mell is in his first weeks at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. His list of priorities is pretty typical for a freshman.

“Number one is definitely Spanish class. Next one, I dunno, is probably getting enough sleep, which I never seem to manage, and then the rest of my classes,” says Mell. “And somewhere over there is the rest of the world, but it’s pretty small.”

Even though what’s going on in the rest of the world — and back in Alaska — isn’t a top concern in his daily life, Mell still cares enough to vote. To do that, he’s got a few options. He could fly back …

“Uh, no. That would be very expensive,” Mell laughs.

He could scan his vote and e-mail it to the Division of Elections, or submit an absentee ballot via fax machine …

“I might be able to figure it out, but it would be stressful.”

Or he can request an absentee ballot by mail.

“I don’t have any envelopes except the ones my mom mailed to me with my grandmother’s address on them so I can send letters to her.”

That whole process feels like a chore to Mell, and like something that could end up discouraging students away at college from voting. Mell thinks more students would vote if they could just register or request absentee ballots from their cell phones. So, he built a mobile website that will let them to do exactly that.

“The entire idea was to make it as easy as possible,” says Mell.

And it is. Testing out the site from a smart phone, registering to vote takes about five minutes. You go to Vote-AK.us, fill out your vitals, swipe your signature on the screen, and that’s pretty much it. With the push of a button, your form gets submitted to the state for processing.

“It’s not officially endorsed by the Division of Elections, but it’s been working, and they haven’t had any problems with it so far,” says Mell. Elections Director Gail Fenumiai confirms the division is accepting forms submitted through the site.

Vote-AK.us isn’t fancy. Mell says developing it took about 20 hours. He chose to build a mobile site instead of an app partially because it was easier for him to program. Plus, a slick design and bells and whistles might actually make it less user friendly and require people to spend more time registering.

Mell also acknowledges that some people might be a little wary about trusting what’s essentially a student side project, but he says he doesn’t get access to any sensitive information.

“I see the name of the person who registered, but I do not get their Social Security number,” says Mell. “That is discarded immediately. It is never stored to a hard drive.”

Every time someone signs up, Mell gets an alert. So far, only 10 people — mostly his friends — have used the site to register. But he’s hoping the idea will take off, and that more people will use it once they learn about it.

“Maybe someday I won’t be able to put up with having that many notifications,” says Mell.

The final day to register to vote is October 5.