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Social media platforms put muscle into National Voter Registration Day

Social media platforms put muscle into National Voter Registration Day
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Election officials, advocacy groups, and social media platforms mobilized Tuesday to get out the vote on National Voter Registration Day, urging U.S. residents to be proactive about casting their ballot as voter registration numbers dip due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Major social media groups including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram engaged users to register to vote, while celebrities and election officials participated in virtual events to spread awareness of the issue. 

“National Voter Registration Day is a great way to check your registration, the only better day was every day before that, you cannot check your registration too many times or too soon,” David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR), told The Hill. 

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Efforts to register voters have taken on new urgency given the pandemic, as registration rates have nosedived compared to 2016 with people staying at home.

According to an analysis of voter registration rates in 21 states released by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice this week, registration numbers in 17 of the states examined are an average of 38 percent lower than they were in 2016. 

The Brennan Center’s findings were similar to those published by CEIR, which saw a major dip in voter registration numbers post-March.

“In all of the states we saw at least a 50 percent reduction in new voter registrations comparing April 2020 and April 2016, and in states like California and Texas, the reductions were even more drastic,” Becker said.

“Overall the new voter registration activity is in significant decline, at least through July,” Becker added. 

Former first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaShould there be a 'Secretary of Thought'? Obamas to attend Biden inauguration Michelle Obama slams Trump, rioters at Capitol: 'They desecrated the center of American government' MORE, pop star Taylor SwiftTaylor Alison SwiftTaylor Swift sexual assault verdict discussed at Supreme Court 2020's top political celebrity moments Obama jokes about birther conspiracy: 'I was able to get away with' not being born in US MORE and the cast of “Hamilton” were among those pushing voter registration on Tuesday.

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“This year’s National Voter Registration Day is truly unique with the ongoing COVID-19 pan­demic and a historic presidential election year,” New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver (D), who also serves as president of the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), said in a statement. “This makes it all the more important for Ameri­cans to take the time to get registered or check their voter registration status to ensure their information is correct.”

The bipartisan members of the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), the key agency involved in funneling federal funds and resources to state election officials, issued a joint statement Tuesday highlighting the importance of registering to vote.

“Election administrators and voters are facing unprecedented challenges as they prepare for the 2020 presidential election,” the EAC commissioners said. “Voter registration efforts have also been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. During these challenging times, it is crucial for voters to ensure they are prepared for the upcoming election as early as possible.”

On Capitol Hill, Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntUS Chamber of Commerce to stop supporting some lawmakers following the Capitol riots Senate to be briefed on inauguration security after Capitol attack This week: Democrats barrel toward Trump impeachment after Capitol attack MORE (R-Mo.), ranking member Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharGoogle completes Fitbit acquisition Hillicon Valley: Fringe social networks boosted after Capitol attack | Planned protests spark fears of violence in Trump's final days | Election security efforts likely to gain ground in Democrat-controlled Congress US Chamber of Commerce to stop supporting some lawmakers following the Capitol riots MORE (D-Minn.), and over 20 bipartisan cosponsors introduced a resolution recognizing Sept. 22 as National Voter Registration Day.

Facebook announcing Monday that it had registered around 2.5 million U.S. users of Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger to vote. That puts it halfway toward its goal of registering 4 million people. 

Users of Facebook and Instagram were met with voter registration information at the top of their newsfeeds on Tuesday, part of a massive voter education campaign announced by Facebook earlier this year.

Snapchat said last week that it had helped over 400,000 U.S. users register to vote, a number that is close to the 450,000 users the company helped register to vote in the 2018 midterm elections, while Twitter on Tuesday rolled out new in-app tools to help users register to vote in addition to the previously announced election hub and ban on political advertisements. 

Engaging with minority voters has also become a priority. WhatsApp announced Tuesday that it was partnering with Vote.org to roll out a voter resource bot that will be available in both English and Spanish to help users in the access voter information and register to vote. 

Becker praised the tech companies for their efforts, but cautioned that state and local government websites should be prioritized for registering as a more direct line to voting.

With online misinformation and disinformation from both foreign and domestic adversaries continuing to spread, he warned that U.S. voters should be cautious consumers of information on social media.

“Our adversaries and perhaps others want Americans to lose faith in our democracy and lose faith in the process, and that is especially true as we get into the home stretch, the final 42 days,” Becker said. “Consumers of social media need to have a healthy skepticism about any media they read that their votes are going to be hacked or there is going to be widespread fraud.”

He said his group expects to see a “significant uptick” in voter registration numbers in September, in part because of the efforts by state and local officials to reach out to voters.

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“Voters are going to need to do a couple of things to make sure they can navigate this process, and those can be boiled down to two words: plan and early, that’s it,” Becker said.