Register to vote via Facebook?

A child peeks out of the voting booth while his mother votes on March 20, 2012 at polling station in Metamora, Illinois.

If you live in Washington State, you already can register to vote online.  But very soon, voters can open their Facebook page, click on the MYVOTE app, and start the process. 

Fear not, privacy advocates. Shane Hamlin, co-director of elections for Washington state says Facebook doesn't have access to your social security number or your driver's license number. Hamlin explains that Facebook is the tool that connects voters to the State Elections page; Facebook never receives the data.

Listen to the interview with Hamlin above.

Kai Ryssdal: This is as you know an increasingly digital society. Private companies getting involved in every aspect of our lives, which gets us to this next item. The state of Washington is working with Microsoft and Facebook to help people register to vote through Facebook.

We called up Shane Hamlin, he's the the co-director of elections up in Washington to make sure we had the story right. Good to have you with us.

Shane Hamlin: Thank you, glad to be here.

Ryssdal: So how is this going to work? You go to Facebook and you 'like' the state of Washington and then you're in it?

Hamlin: Well, so that's very close actually. If you are on Facebook and you find our state, Washington state elections page, the app is there and you can access it. Or if a friend has already used it and they like it and recommend it, you can see it that way. Once you activate the app, you click on it, you're giving permission to use some of your profile information to begin the process. 

Ryssdal: Facebook has had its share, well more than its share of privacy issues, right? Did you guys do a little pause before you entered into this thing? You could see voters going, 'Facebook, my data?'

Hamlin: Because of the way the application works, you're not entering your information into Facebook, they're not collecting it, it's coming directly to us. So it's not that you are registering to Facebook and they're giving us the information. They are not conducting the voter registration, you are. You are doing it with our system, but you've just accessed it via Facebook.

Ryssdal: The ultimate goal here, I imagine, is to get people registered to vote.

Hamlin: That is the ultimate goal. That is why we are doing this, that's why we have online registration.

Ryssdal: Now, I have to tell you, I'm as in favor of more participation in this democracy as anybody, but you see an objection that goes like this: We are getting now private companies engaged in the fundamental mechanism of democracy.

Hamlin: What you just described has already been happening, has already been occuring for a long time and just in different ways, where private companies are funding voter registration drives. This is a very transparent way in which that's happening, as opposed to some other ways companies may be funding voter registration and get out the vote activities. With the advent of technology and online registration, the perception of it is, or the visibility of it is maybe higher because we are all very attuned to technology, and Facebook obviously is a high profile company, and it is going to attract a lot of attention.

Ryssdal: Can you see a day where I can sit the safety of my own home and go to a Facebook page and vote?

Hamlin: Well, no, not off Facebook. Voting online is something that has been a topic of conversation for a number of years now. A number of important security issues have to be overcome, but we also have to feel like, and our secretary has been very vocal on this, that if you don't continue to have this conversation, if you don't continue to push smart people to solve these problems, we won't get there. When actually there is an expectation at some point, we will get there because the generations that are growing up now, the younger generations are going to expect to be able to do that. And they are going to want to know why their government can't make that happen.

Ryssdal: Shane, thanks a lot.

Hamlin: All right, thank you.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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