iUnderstand: Using Tech to Vote Smarter

The distillation of information through social media is making it easier than ever to quickly and efficiently access a world of data in a matter of minutes. So why not jump on the bandwagon?

September's election in Scotland sparked, within me, a genuine pride for the democratic process. Almost 4.3 million people, 97% of the eligible voting population, turned out to vote in an election that asked one simple question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” In a remarkably close 55% lead, Scottish citizens decided to remain a part of the United Kingdom. Now, I know that this is America, and HeadCount is an organization that is fueled by national pride. But it is also an organization that strives to promote and preserve the democratic process. And this Scottish election is a prime example of the power that comes from a country uniting to do just that. Almost the entirety of the eligible population showed up to cast their ballots—meaning that the results of this election truly reflect the sincere interest of the general population. This, I believe, is just fantastic. The good news for America? We now have all the tools we need to be just as engaged as the Scots.

iCitizen-FacebookShareAs a Headcount volunteer, I was afforded the unique opportunity of being exposed to some of the people behind an operation called iCitizen—a “free app that lets you efficiently follow the issues you care about, track your reps, and then make your voice count,” as their text-message sharing feature specifies. And it’s true; iCitizen utilizes a customizable feed to promote the sharing of important information on a slew of different political issues. The goal of iCitizen is to inform and engage Americans about the democratic process and the current issues at hand. They do this through a series of poll questions, primarily. But what is truly unique about iCitizen is that they plan, in the near future, to involve the representatives themselves in this polling process. This means that when 2016 rolls around, there will be a way for political candidates to send questions directly to the pockets of the majority of the American population.

Time and time again I have encountered people who eloquently and efficiently argue that their reason for neglecting to vote is their lack of insight regarding important issues. And "not knowing enough" is valid, sure. There is a legitimate argument there. The fact of the matter is, however, that if owning a smartphone is commonplace, the "I don’t know enough" excuse is no longer valid.

I get it: the technological revolution that Apple seemed to have fathered was overwhelming at first. All of a sudden, a mountain of information was available at the swipe of a finger. It was scary and it made us all feel a little bit infinitesimal. But it happened, and there’s no going back. What we have to do is accept the inevitability of this technological shift—and thus capitalize on the rapidity and widespread implications of its features. One of the ways to do this is by using iCitizen.

Screenshot 2014-11-02 22.53.04Another way is through NYT Now. Launched in April, NYT Now was created by The New York Times. The app efficiently summarizes the day’s leading stories into one or two easily-understood bullet points. It is the perfect tool for people on the go: students, teachers, businessmen and musicians alike. After ten minutes of scrolling through the articles, you will find that you are significantly more informed than when you sat down. You don’t have to know it all, just more than you did just yesterday. Every little bit helps, and if you give it a mere ten minutes each evening, a month from now you will be exponentially smarter.

I studied English Literature in college. The fact that I’ve read Don Quixote has nothing to do with my comprehension of ISIS. But my knowledge base, as a whole, is not cut and dry, and neither is yours. Recognizing this is what allows me to grow into a more informed American, each and every day. So, in Baz Luhrman-esque fashion I say to you all: you are not as uninformed as you imagine. And you’re only getting smarter from here on out. You’re probably going to check Instagram when you finish reading this anyway, so why not get informed at the same time? Your phone is already in your hand. Now is the time to use it. Just put it down long enough to cast your vote.