If you ever wondered if the corner bakery owner or your hairdresser professes Republican, Independent, or Democratic association, you can now find out. The voting-reminder app Vote With Me doesn’t just give you all the details about upcoming elections in which you can vote, including deadlines, where to cast a ballot, and polling information about U.S. House and Senate and state gubernatorial races. If you give it permission, it can also use publicly available voter data to extract details about everyone in your contacts.
Vote With Me tries to match your contacts against registered voters based on their names and address. For those it pairs up, it pulls down a surprising amount of information about them: party affiliation (if any), the last several elections in which they voted, and the ones they missed—all the same details it offers you.
A person’s voting record in the U.S. is, of course, confidential. And the app promises to delete contact data that it examines after it has performed its matching process, as well as never to sell or use the data to contact or advertise to people you know.
A filter tool lets users sort their friends by party, whether they’re in a district with a tight election, and whether you’ve already gotten in touch with them through the app to try to encourage them to vote.
Of course, it can also match a lot of people who aren’t necessarily friends, like colleagues, your boss, and others about whom enough information appears in your contacts list. You might rather not know that your regular plumber hasn’t voted in 10 years, or that your kid’s best friend’s parents have a different party affiliation than you (though you might have already had a painfully awkward conversation about that already).
The notion behind this app is that people are more likely to vote if people they are reminded and encouraged to cast a ballot. That can amplify “get out the vote” efforts in two directions: The app pinpoints people you know, marks close elections with a flame emoji, and makes it easy for you to contact them.
The group behind the app, The New Data Project, says its research shows that messages from friends are 20 times more effective in getting someone to vote than strangers making contact through door-to-door canvassing, though the group hasn’t released its data.
While the app makes some effort to brand itself nonpartisan, it lets its blue shine through all over. The registered developer’s name is Flip the House; in its FAQ and on its staff page it notes team members who worked for and with the Obama administration, and the latest release notes for the iOS app begin, “VoteWithMe helps you increase voter turnout for Team Blue.”
One self-identified Republican voter used the app and left a review at the Apple iTunes Store: “…it was interesting to see what contacts of mine are Republican and voted with the Right.” While the reviewer complained about and insulted the app developers and the Democratic Party they also said they used Vote With Me to notify GOP friends to remind them to vote. “I’ll definitely use this app for Trump 2020,” they wrote.