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Washington to Allow People to Register to Vote Through Facebook

BY Miranda Neubauer | Thursday, July 19 2012

Washington state is officially rolling out online voter registration via a Facebook application within the next few weeks. It's already one of the first states to offer online voter registration.

The new offering came about after Facebook and Microsoft approached the Washington Secretary of State's office, according to Shane Hamlin, the state's co-director of elections. The office was already discussing ways to further to promote its online voter registration service and continue to grow the number of people registered.

Microsoft developed the application free of charge for the state. The company had already worked with the agency on its online voter database and My Vote platform, an online portal for voters, Hamlin said.

When users access the Facebook application, it asks them to give permission to transfer their name and date of birth from their Facebook profile to the application's interface. The application then performs a real-time check against the database to see if the user is already registered, in which case it directs the user to the My Vote interface. If not, it brings up an interface allowing the voter to register, assuming the user has a Washington state driver's license or I.D. card number. If that is entered, the system does a real-time check against the Department of Licensing's database.

Once the process is complete, a user checks a box to indicate the information is truthful and gives the permission to use the signature from the Licensing database. "It takes maybe five minutes and all the information comes to us within the Facebook frame," Hamlin said.

The application is already live, but is not being promoted by the state yet as it undergoes browser compatibility testing. The agency's technological staff are in control of the application.

Hamlin said he hoped the application could leverage Facebook's social network to spread awareness as users "like" or recommend the application, although he said the application would not itself send updates to users' news feeds.

Since news about the new offering came out — Hamlin says he was speaking with a reporter about another story, mentioned this, and became inundated with media inquiries — officials this week have conducted close to 20 interviews with news outlets across the country.

With about 60 percent of eligible voters registered in the state, Washington is among top five or ten states with the most proportionally registered voters, Hamlin said. In 2008, the first year the state offered online voter registration, 158,000 people used it. Counting out voters who received their registration through motor vehicle registration, 42 percent of registrations went through the online system that year, he said.