A couple of weeks ago, we asked readers to tell us why you vote. The question was not which candidate or party you support, but in general, what motivates you to go to the polls on Election Day or vote by mail?
It was an exercise inspired by a cynical sentiment that arises each campaign season. It's voiced by many in cyberspace, and the sense among some people is that campaigns have gotten too nasty, elections too expensive and the whole process is a mess. So, when we asked Sonoma County residents to weigh in on why they are voting — and posted their responses on WatchSonomaCounty.com — there was plenty of the predictable vitriol and mudslinging. But mixed among the mire were some genuine notes from people appreciative of the right to vote, proud of the opportunity to do so, swept up in the democratic process and so on.
But it was hard to get too many people to talk about why they are voting.
Well, Election Day is here, and there's a slightly different phenomenon happening this year as people take to the Internet not to say why they vote but to proclaim that they have voted.
Those little "I Voted" stickers have now gone virtual. They are available for download and can be added to all the various social media applications, one of the surest signs that our election process has changed. For example, when you leave the polling place, if you're a user of the location-based Foursquare service, you'll be able to check in and get an official "I Voted" badge.
We may all still use ballots, whether through the mail or at a precinct station staffed by kind-hearted civic-minded local residents, but many of us will be trumpeting our voting prowess through our Facebook or Twitter accounts. And most campaigns now are urging their supporters to let all or their friends know that they've voted, which can, of course, be accomplished not just through email or texting but social media, too.
Already, Twitter feeds are filling up with photos of ballots being mailed in or other signs of democracy.
This is the second presidential election where social media has been so thoroughly in the mainstream of American life, but one could argue that the explosive growth just in the past few years has elevated the role of social networking to unprecedented levels. Facebook now has 1 billion users, 10 times the amount it had four years ago, and Twitter, with its 500 million users, is 100 times larger than it was in 2008. According to the company, more than 400 million tweets are sent every day. How many will be election-related? Impossible to say, but today, it will seem like most of them are.
So while turnout is expected to be as high as 85 percent in places such as Sonoma County, only about 55-60 percent of the eligible voters in the United States will actually vote. But if you're hanging out on social media on Election Day, you may not get much explanation as to why your friends are voting, but it will probably seem like everyone has cast a ballot. Go join them.
<i>Greg Retsinas is digital director of The Press Democrat. Email him at email@example.com.</i>