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Social media doesn’t let you forget to vote

The 1988 U.S. presidential election was the first time I cared about politics. George H. W. Bush, the incumbent vice president, was running against Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.

But that’s not why I cared. I didn’t care if Bush or Dukakis won. I didn’t fancy myself a Democrat or Republican.

Having recently turned 18 and registered with the selective service, my thought was “Hey, I’m finally an adult. I’m going to conquer the world.”

The first step was to elect a president. Time to cast my vote. This was my first big obstacle to world domination.

It also was my first big adult fail.

OK, it wasn’t really a huge failure, but it felt like it. Little did I know how hard it would be for a newly minted grown-up to find voting information. When I asked, Mom said, “You just vote at the same place I do. We’ll get you there.”

“Of course! Mom knows,” I thought. Mom was relatively active in politics. She voted in every election. Before I was born, she marched with Dad in Washington for different issues. Mom would certainly have all the important information.

On Election Day, I arrived at our local polling place with Mom. No sooner did I walk in the door of the Morgan Street Fire Hall than I turned around and walked out. Turns out you had to register to vote.

As much propaganda the government threw at young men about registering with the selective service, you’d think they would have shared something about registering to vote.

Maybe they did. I was 18 and always distracted. So much for world domination.

Thirty years and a few U.S. presidential elections later and I’m still distracted. Now I blame work and other responsibilities for my little mistakes. Truth is, if I’m still distracted, it’s more likely that technology is to blame.

But in some ways, technology has made it easier for distracted voters like me to stay focused.

Websites with candidate platforms. Email with links to voter registration. Directions to polling places. Social media with information and opinions and, unfortunately, a little misinformation at times. In fact, if you go to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms, it’s often the first thing you’ll see.

Open Instagram and you’ll find election info and voting resources. Before I could scroll my feed of images, Instagram gave me links to voter registration, how to request a mail-in ballot, deadlines, military and overseas voting, facts about voting, and state requirements.

There’s a static button at the bottom of the screen to change your state. Mine defaulted to Ohio.

Instagram also gives options for sharing this information with friends and followers. Want to be a poll worker? You’ll find a link to “see opportunities” at the bottom of Instagram’s election page.

Facebook has a little more. Although there is a prominent link to its Voter Information Center, Facebook buried the link on their mobile app. I found it after a few clicks, with other links to weather, movies and fundraisers.

Aside from the same steps Instagram provided, Facebook also gives information on voting safely during COVID-19, and links to recent election stories.

More than three decades after that first election, I’m still distracted. But thanks, in part, to my favorite social sites, at least I know I’m registered to vote.

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is a professor of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adamearn.com.

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