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New app can tell you if your friends have voted

Chalk it up to the latest social media phenomenon, but don’t be alarmed if you get messages from your friends prodding you into voting.

A software program developed by Our Oregon coalition can tap into your Facebook friends and cross reference them with information from the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office to alert you to voters who haven’t turned in their ballot.

You can then send your friends a message reminding them to vote.

The information, which can be retrieved through the website didtheyvote.org or a phone app, is being mined by political groups throughout the state, including the Yes on 91 campaign that seeks to legalize marijuana.

“We want to make sure this is a high-turnout election,” said Casey Houlihan, a spokesman for Yes on 91.

In Jackson County, about 51 percent of voters had cast their ballots by Monday evening, according to the Jackson County Elections Center.

The Jackson County Democratic Party, which has endorsed Ballot Measure 91, has given supporters of the marijuana initiative room at its headquarters to make phone calls based on the information available at the didtheyvote.org website.

A demonstration of the latest voter tool to help in the get-out-the-vote campaign was scheduled to be unveiled at Democratic headquarters Monday evening.

“Information on who voted and who hasn’t voted is a matter of public record,” Houlihan said.

The Secretary of State’s Office doesn’t reveal how someone voted, however.

“The idea is pretty simple: Have your Oregon friends voted in the November election yet?” Houlihan said. “Not sure? Well, here’s a quick way to find out.”

If you type in your Facebook information, the software will look through your list of friends and tell you who hasn't voted. However, if a friend voted in the last day or two, the information may not have been updated.

Candidates and political parties routinely purchase activity lists that show who hasn’t voted in an election. That’s one of the reasons why early voters don’t get those annoying political phone calls.

Houlihan said the information will be used to encourage all voters to cast their ballots, not just to target voters who are likely to support Ballot Measure 91.

Ben Unger, executive director of Our Oregon, said the website and phone app are both extensions of what groups have done in the past to get voters to cast their ballot.

“For years, we’ve been knocking on doors, encouraging them to vote," he said. “It uses the same principles. Some people just need a friendly reminder.”

Unger, a Democratic state representative from Hillsboro, said his organization, which is based in Portland, paid to have the software developed.

He said people can use the information through their Facebook account, but organizations can use it as another tool to reach out to voters as they go door to door, or contact people through other means.

“Voters are harder to reach through their phones or at their doors,” he said. “It allows you to be flexible and nimble in our outreach.”

The type of system works well in a vote-by-mail state, Unger said, and has been used in other states.

Lynn Howe, chairwoman of the Jackson County Democratic Central Committee, said some voters might be turned off by friends knowing whether they voted.

“But, peer pressure does work,” she said. “In other elections and in other places, they have done similar things. Apparently it is very motivational in getting people to vote.”

Howe said voters react differently to getting a nudge to turn in their ballots, but she said it’s a useful tool for friends contacting other friends.

“It makes it convenient, certainly, because you’re reaching out to your universe,” she said. “It’s another way to connect in a meaningful way.”

Reach Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.

Jesse Smith of Central Point and a slew of other voters drop off their ballots in front of the Jackson County Elections Center Monday. Voter turnout may be getting a boost from an online app that tells your friends whether you've voted. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell