Hot or Not, Craig's List spark voter drives
The owners of the Hot or Not and Craig's List Web sites understand that it's easy to forget about registration deadlines or absentee ballots, so they created Web sites that fill out voters' registration forms, tell voters where to send them and when they're due.
Hot or Not's Vote or Not site, www.voteornot.com, even offers voters the chance to win $100,000 for signing up - and another chance for getting friends to sign up too.
These sites, which are otherwise nonpolitical (Hot or Not allows users to rate peoples' physical hotness, and Craig's List is an online bulletin board and public forum), have helped thousands register. Vote or Not registered more than 50,000 voters and Craig's List registered more than 40,000.
James Hong and Jim Young, founders of HotorNot.com, and Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist.org, believe that people don't avoid voting because they're apathetic, but because they're too busy and the voting process is unclear.
"I was with Jim, and I wondered how he had registered, and it turned out he hadn't registered for 10 years," Hong said. "It occurred to me that there were a lot of people like us out there."
Hong and Young decided that they should give people an incentive to vote, so they created VoteorNot.com, which signs users up for its sweepstakes and gives voters a "code" to give to friends. Every time a friend enters, the voter has a chance to win another $100,000 for being the person who recommended the winner.
"Everyone has an incentive to join and get their friends to," Hong said. "While they're telling them about the sweepstakes, they're informing them on how to vote too."
It also periodically sends the users e-mails reminding them about the state voter registration deadline and offering tips on how to get friends to vote.
"I don't even know what I'm doing tomorrow," Hong said. "When you have something you have to do ahead of time, and you really don't know when the deadline is, it's really easy to miss doing it."
Hong and Young decided to work with Rock the Vote, a leading youth political organization, because they were aware of it and felt that a lot of younger people would know about it as well, Hong said.
"It seemed like a fun, crazy idea that could help a lot of people," Hong said. "I think it's more important to vote this year because it's so close, every vote really counts."
Newmark also encourages users to register to vote and get absentee ballots.
Earlier this year, Working Assets, a West Coast phone company, created a nonprofit group to register more than one million voters by the upcoming election. The group approached Newmark to help it toward this goal. Working Assets is a progressive group that combines its phone company with many different activist groups, such as Act for Change, a front group for Sen. John Kerry.
"They approached me about voting registration to begin with, and I asked them to provide more for absentee ballots," Newmark said. "We're all in this together."
Newmark said that getting people to vote is critical this year, and he includes instructions on how to register online and vote via absentee ballot, and links to voter protections on each of Craig's List's city Web sites.
"This year is a critical one for democracy in this country," Newmark said. "A lot of people don't vote because they have too much work or a long commute. I've used the absentee ballot to vote myself for numerous years."
College students especially need to vote because they are the ones who will be most affected by the upcoming election, Newmark said.
"I think it's very important that people in college vote because they are going to be drafted if Bush is re-elected," Newmark said. "I'm old enough to remember having a draft number."
During the first presidential debate last week, Bush said he would not have a draft.
By using the Internet to gather people, Newmark said he feels that people become less disillusioned with the election process.
"People on the Web discover that there are other people who are doing good things that they want to be involved with," Newmark said. "People don't vote because they've become disillusioned. I know people whose votes were not counted in the last election."
Newmark feels that because communities have helped Craig's List, he should help them in return.
"The community has done a lot for us. I feel like I have a constituency and I should do something positive for them," Newmark said. "We should use our social capital to do good stuff"