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These Former Obama Appointees Made an App to Get You to Vote—And It’s Actually Effective

VoteWithMe wants to get you and your friends to the midterms in November.
The New Data Project team wants to get you to the polls in November. Photos courtesy of the New Data Project.

Taylor Swift isn’t the only one motivating young people to vote in the upcoming midterm elections. A team of former Obama appointees has developed an app called, aptly, VoteWithMe, to encourage users to text their friends to push them to the polls—which the app’s creators say is more effective than traditional canvassing.

“The whole purpose of the app is really to get your friends out to vote,” says Sarah Sullivan, a former senior writer for President Obama who is now deputy executive director of The New Data Project, a nonprofit founded last year that developed the app. “It’s about making sure that you’re prepared, and it’s about building trust.”

The nonprofit’s executive director is Mikey Dickerson, the former Google engineer who was the first head of the US Digital Service, or Obama’s “trauma team” that saved HealthCare.gov after Obamacare launched in 2013. When their terms as White House staffers ended on Inauguration Day in 2017, Dickerson, along with Sullivan and other members of the trauma team, decided to create the nonprofit.

This past spring, the team conducted a pre-launch randomized trial during Conor Lamb’s successful run for Congress and showed that texts sent through VoteWithMe were as much as 20 times more effective than stranger-to-stranger, “get out the vote” methods. The success of this trial encouraged the team to focus primarily on developing and releasing VoteWithMe in time for November’s critical election.

Photo of the app courtesy of the New Data Project.

So how does VoteWithMe actually work? By syncing users’ phone contact lists and pairing them with information from the public voter file, VoteWithMe shows which elections their friends have voted in and whether they’re eligible to vote in a swing district. While this might sound invasive, the app’s founders remind its users that the information it aggregates and displays is already, well, public information. 

“I know there’s a concern that with a lot of political tools, when you use them, or when you donate to a campaign, you’ll be added to an email list,” says Sullivan. “Well, you won’t be added to our email list because we don’t even have an email list. So that’s something that we’re doing just a little bit differently.”

The app also doesn’t ask for a username or password, and users are promised that all data the app collects will be deleted after the election—it isn’t sold or used to send ads to your friends.

“A lot of people are looking for something meaningful to do in November,” says Sullivan. “This is something that is really simple and interesting that actually makes a difference.”

The VoteWithMe app is available for free for iPhone or Android users and can be downloaded in the Apple or Google Play app store.

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Elliot joined Washingtonian in January 2018. An alum of Villanova University, he grew up in the Philadelphia area before moving to Syracuse to pursue a master’s in journalism. His work has also appeared on Syracuse.com, TheAtlantic.com, and Catholicnews.com. He lives in Eckington.