Most local election offices aren’t on social media: report

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With the 2022 midterm elections looming, many campaigns are in full-swing trying to connect with voters. But at the local level, a lack of information about the voting process may inhibit some from participating, while a new report suggests these barriers could be exacerbated by a low presence of local election offices on social media.

According to research conducted on the 2020 election, the majority of local election offices throughout the country do not have a social media presence beyond that of Facebook, and for those that do, chances are candidates are not effectively reaching their audience, authors wrote.

Because younger adults have been moving away from Facebook as their preferred social media platform, the findings suggest these local offices might be missing a large swath of younger voters with their election information.

Previous research conducted by the report’s authors documented the positive effect social media can have on voters of all ages. In particular, their work shows that young voters are more likely to register to vote, cast ballots and have their ballots counted when local election officials have and use their social media accounts to distribute voting information.

The current analysis reveals most offices are not on Facebook or Twitter.

In addition, few are on both Facebook and Twitter, while some use only one of the platforms.

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Eight states, Alaska, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin, were excluded from the analysis as elections are run by municipal officials not county staff.

California and Florida both had relatively large proportions of county election offices on both platforms surveyed, along with Ohio and Maryland. Several states including Oregon, Montana, South Dakota, Mississippi and others had no offices using both platforms. In North Dakota, no local election offices used social media in 2020.

At the time, just half of voters between the ages 18 and 29 voted in the presidential election, marking an 11-point increase from 2016 rates.

However, rates among this cohort continue to lag behind older voters, researchers explained.

“Even when they do try to vote, young voters face more barriers to participation than more experienced voters. They are more likely than older people to make errors or omissions on their voter registration applications and therefore not be successfully registered.”

Some of these issues may arise thanks to confusion around voter eligibility requirements under state election laws, while social media poses a potential solution to this challenge.

However, the platforms these offices use to distribute information will be instrumental, as more young individuals report a preference for Instagram, YouTube, TikTok and SnapChat over Facebook and Twitter, researchers explained.

The primary method local offices use to distribute voting information is through their own government websites.

“But young voters’ regular use of social media presents an opportunity for officials to be more active and engaged on those sites,” authors wrote.

“While many election officials around the country face budget and staffing pressures, as well as threats to their safety, our research confirms that when officials do get involved on social media, young voters benefit – as does democracy itself,” they concluded.

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