On Tuesday morning, MacKenzie Bills's cell phone will buzz, alerting her to a text. The message, a simple reminder, will direct the Simpson College junior to a polling place in Indianola, Iowa, just across the street from campus: Go vote.
The text isn't from her parents, or a particularly civically engaged friend. TurboVote, a digital, nonpartisan service that streamlines voter registration for college students, sends personalized texts to the 80,000 co-eds who have registered and requested them. More than 200 colleges, including Ohio State and Stanford, have purchased access to the platform, which is free for students.
"The purpose is to make it as painless as possible for students to register to vote," said David Klement, executive director of the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at Florida's St. Petersburg College. "Knowing how many young people are tech-savvy and do everything on their cell phones or computers, it's an electronic platform."
In a year where midterm races have lacked much excitement, colleges have found creative ways to engage students in the voting process through technology they already use.
Bills, who is studying political science and international relations, needs no reminder to vote. The founder and president of Simpson Votes, a campus club that promotes civic engagement, she took advantage of Iowa's early voting last month. But the digital nudge, she said, makes all the difference for her busy peers—especially in a state where the outcome of a tight Senate race could swing control of Congress.