Swipe to the left (or the right)

JDHS grad creates wireless way to register for polls

Swipe. Click. Vote absentee. That’s how easy Stephen Mell wants it to be for his tech-tethered peers registering to vote or signing up to vote absentee. He’s created a mobile site that allows Alaskans to register directly from their ever-present smartphones.


Mell graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School earlier this year and is only a few weeks into his freshman year of college at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, where he is not a political science or computer science major. (He’s undeclared.)

Concerned that his peers wouldn’t bother to have absentee ballots sent for what he considers a “very significant” election, he created a mobile site to make the process as quick and simple as possible.

Filling out the form at http://vote-ak.us/ will sign already registered voters up to receive an absentee ballot or register a new voter. It’s perfectly set up for the tech-savvy student on the go.

“I tried to make it take as little time as possible,” Mell said in a phone interview. “It takes less than 10 minutes, I promise.”

An applicant need only tap and type to fill out the various questions, photograph an appropriate identification card and sign using the smartphone’s touch screen.

“In my experience, most Alaskans attending college out of state are not registered to vote absentee,” Mell said. “I know a lot of people my age don’t vote.”

He’s right. According to a report from the U.S. Census, “younger americans have consistently under-voted at the polls relative to their eligibility.”

“The voting rate of young people aged 18 through 29 was 7.1 points below the group’s eligibility rate in 1996. In 2000, the young-adult under-voting rate was not statistically different from 1996, but in 2004, 2008, and 2012, the young-adult under-voting rate was smaller than in 1996,” the report reads.

Mell hopes his peers will buck the trends for an election he calls important.

“We have a Senate seat that could go either way. That’s remarkable for Alaska,” he said. “There are so few people here … a small number of votes make a much bigger difference than they would in the state of California. It’s a fairly unique circumstance.”

Mell admits he understands his peers’ sense of apathy, but he’s not letting it get to him.

“I don’t know why I care so much,” Mell said, though he added that some close friends and his mother are politically informed — and sometimes opinionated. Whatever the reason, he cares enough to tackle some of the obstacles to voting.

A lot of people don’t know what steps to take to register to vote absentee, or at all, and some steps may seem outdated or too much of a hassle. Mell doesn’t think his peers are likely to print a form, fill it out and fax or scan and send it.

“It might be too much for my friends and peers,” admitted the 19-year-old, who said he wouldn’t know how to fill out the front of an envelope to mail if it weren’t for the thank-you cards he sends his grandmother.

According to Pew Social Trends, 96 percent of millennials reported carrying a cellphone in 2013. With this in mind, Mell’s mobile site that allows applicants to complete the entire process with ease and only a smartphone could make the process simple and accessible enough for his peers.

Mell was the first to fill out the form, and 10 others have also used it.

While numbers might also show not many millennials are reading the newspaper, Mell hopes online and mobile readers will follow or forward the link, or that the less tech-savvy parents and grandparents will clip out the article and encourage the college students in their lives to register to vote absentee.

• Contact reporter Melissa Griffiths at 523-2272 or at melissa.griffiths@juneauempire.com.





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