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Greene: Hello Vote

As in the last two presidential elections, there’s a big push to register new voters. After all, Millennials – defined as being between 19 and 35 years old - now outnumber Boomers by a good half million. It’s a group both parties are eager to reach.

One organization trying to make voter registration more Millennial friendly by using text messaging is HelloVote. It promises to get the new voter registered without waiting in line, or even having to find a stamp.

Josh Levinger is Product Director at HelloVote, and he’s been working on online voter registration since 2012. He says Millennials use phones for most - if not all - of their internet needs. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, 86% of 18 to 29 year-olds rely on smart phones. Most, explains Levinger, don’t own printers. He says the goal of HelloVote is to make voter registration quick and easy, without printing, in all 50 states. “At the moment VT requires first time registrants to include a photo of their ID,” he adds.

Levinger grew up in Norwich, so he’s all too familiar with the challenges Vermont’s terrain presents to connectivity. He’s working on a way for people to take a photo of their ID with their phone and send it to their local election official directly. But he adds that won’t get done in time for this election.

VT’s digital challenges aren’t lost on Dover town clerk Andy McLean, either. Many small VT towns are still integrating voting machines, whose tabulation can be complex. Glitches in text registration could be overwhelming. There’s also potential for fraud - a bogus site could promise voter registration that’s never delivered. But Levinger points out that civilians registering new voters could just as easily “lose” the paperwork.

“Trust, but verify” is a famous quote from President Reagan, but verification might also present more roadblocks to preoccupied Millennials.

When Hannah Hoffman, a 24 year old singer-songwriter who just moved to town, decided to give HelloVote a spin, her age and phone number got scrambled. And after being asked repeatedly for several pieces of information, she was directed to print out the application and send the hard copy in to HelloVote. Then she was warned it might take up to three weeks to process.

With deadlines looming, Hoffman simply went to the town office in person – and registered.

Stephanie Greene is a free-lance writer now living with her husband and sons on the family farm in Windham County.
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