Vote With Me, a free app made by a progressive nonprofit, allows users to see the voting history of every one of their cellphone contacts. With a few clicks you can see whether a person voted in the last election and whether they’re registered to vote at all. This isn’t a data leak—your voting record was already public information. Vote With Me just makes finding it really, really easy with.
Within seconds of downloading Vote With Me and allowing the app to access my contacts, I could see which of my friends had voted in every election from the time they turned 18, and which hadn’t voted in a single election. A red slash mark next to a contact’s name over a year shows if they didn’t vote in the 2014 or 2016 presidential election.
This isn’t a brand new app—it was developed in 2018. But it’s the first time the app has been around for a presidential election. And with politics more bifurcated than ever—and performative social media activism at an all-time high—this app feels like the equivalent of shining a black light in a motel room.
But wait! The app is wrong, a lot of the time. Before you start resenting your friends for not bothering to vote for your reproductive freedoms or clean air, consider this—you need to know the person’s first and last name, and the state they’re registered to vote in, and not assume the information the app has pulled is correct—which it isn’t in many cases. A colleague was confused because the app said she was registered in the wrong state and hadn’t voted in the past two elections, which is untrue. I also looked up one politically active friend and was shocked to see he too “hadn’t voted” in either of the last two presidential elections. But when I calmed down and typed in another state I thought he might be registered in, I saw that he had voted in almost every primary and presidential election since 2009. All this to say, if anyone is stalking me, I AM REGISTERED IN NEW YORK, NOT CALIFORNIA.
“The efficacy of Vote With Me,” Christina Cauterucci wrote in Slate in 2018, “lies in its capacity to humiliate.” That’s true, and kind of hilarious, but it shouldn’t be—shame isn’t a reliably effective tactic to get people to take action. If it was, more people would vote. As it stands, voter turnout is amazingly low—hardly more than half eligible Americans voted in 2016. And part of that, at least, is because voting isn’t as easy as downloading an app and pressing a few buttons, though it absolutely should be. Not voting doesn’t mean you’re lazy or stupid, there are lots of other considerations. But a kind note from a friend with information about finding a polling place or a registration form could help.
That’s the goal of the Vote With Me app—to get real people to encourage their friends and family to make a plan to vote. You’re more likely to sway your camp friend or your old neighbor to vote, for example, than an enthusiastic retiree named Florence who is calling from an out-of-state number to get out the vote.
Think about it this way: you only have one vote. So if you convince a single person to vote, and to vote for your shared values, you have actually doubled your impact. Doubled! So do as the great voting rights activists of yore have always done: open your Iphone, change your contact’s name from “Dean Bumble Wine Bar 2015,” and start sending out some sweet, sweet voting information.
Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. You can follow her on Twitter.