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Have You Commited to Vote Yet? How 'Bout Now?

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, November 1 2010

If you've been inundated in the last two week or so with endless Facebook postings urging you to "Commit to Vote" in the run-up to tomorrow's election and have been a little annoyed by it, you're not alone. It's become common to hear people echo the sentiment captured by Maryland's Marney Kirk in a recent Twitter posting. "Dear Facebook friends, I appreciate that u want me to vote," wrote Kirk. "That being said, I voted on Tuesday, so you can stop posting 'commit to vote.'"

But one person's annoyance is a field organization's great success. "Outside of DC," says Organizing for America new media director Natalie Foster, "one friend asking another to vote and sharing a reason why isn't called spam -- it's called great citizenship and it's the kind of thing we're all supposed to be encouraging."

Indeed, Organizing for America is rather thrilled with the public response to their Commit to Vote Challenge app, where people tap into their Facebook networks to pester their friends to make a public pledge to actually cast a ballot before or on Tuesday. The reason you're seeing it everywhere is that it is, indeed, just about everywhere. The OFA app has gained more than 850,000 active users since it launched two weeks ago today. (Details on that launch here.) More intriguing, though, are the patterns OFA is seeing in how people are running with the app. According to Foster, they're seeing tens of millions of impressions of those wall postings -- a product of people taking the app and running with it, using it to share with their social networks their reasons for enaging in American democracy. Eighty-five percent of the people who "commit" are prompted to do so by a Facebook friend, rather than by OFA. On average, a request to commit gets passed from friend-to-friend ten times. The longest chain, as of this afternoon, involved 35 different pass-alongs.

OFA is convinced that they're hitting the high-value rare voters that turned out in such large numbers to elect Barack Obama. "Nearly a third of the folks who have committed to vote are first-time 2008 voters, or sporadic voters who would otherwise be very unlikely to vote in midterm elections," wrote Foster in a blog post on Friday. Indeed, voter turnout for mid-term elections in the U.S. hangs below forty percent.

Still, what about the irritation of having your Facebook taken over by these calls to vote? Those feelings are, of course, rather natural. But they're ones that voters feel offline, too, this time of year. And it's rather infrequently friends doing the annoying. Ceaseless TV ads, invasive phone calls, and unnerving knocks on the door are all part of the modern model of American democracy. Getting out the vote involves some amount of getting on people's nerves.

Beyond that, Foster points out that the high-tech, social nature of Organizing for America's Commit to Vote Challenge does offer some respite. The way to get people to stop pestering you with reminders to commit to vote is to, well, simply commit to vote -- publicly and on Facebook. You'll still see other people's wall posts on the topic. But do that, and you're dropped from the system, never to be bugged with a direct virtual nudging again.

But if you're still not convinced that the Commit to Vote Challenge is worth it, then has an e-card for you. "I wasn't going to vote," it snarks. "But then you sent me an automated Facebook message and I changed my mind." Go ahead and blast it out to all your Facebook friends. They love that sort of thing.