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2012 campaign

Voting Goes From Inalienable Right to Bragging Right

University of California, Davis freshman Lorraine Ye puts on her "I Voted" sticker after casting her vote for the first time, on Nov. 6

Photograph by The Sacramento Bee/AP Photo

University of California, Davis freshman Lorraine Ye puts on her "I Voted" sticker after casting her vote for the first time, on Nov. 6

A woman I went to high school with voted for Barack Obama today. I know this because she posted a picture of her ballot to Facebook (FB). She quickly deleted it—perhaps because, according to the Citizen Media Law Project, doing so in Illinois, where she lives, is actually illegal—but not before five other people took self-portraits of themselves wearing their “I voted!” stickers. Media outlets are in on the game, too; the New York Times is soliciting readers’ stylized Instagram photos while NPR wants to know what’s on people’s election-night playlist.

Do people make election-night playlists? Then how do they listen to Wolf Blitzer? This year, voting in America has moved from an inalienable right to a bragging right. It’s the democratic equivalent of telling everyone how well you’re sticking to your diet.

Social media has changed since the 2008 election, when Sarah Palin impersonations abounded on YouTube (GOOG) but the Internet had not yet become infatuated with sepia-toning its every move. There were 10.3 million tweets about the Denver presidential debate last month—of which, I admit, I contributed at least a dozen. That’s one tweet for every 14 people who reportedly watched it. Today, Facebook is tracking the number of people who clicked on its “I voted” prompt in real time. But how useful are these statistics? The site currently shows that only 8 percent of its self-identified voters are over age 55, while in 2008 that age group had a voter turnout of roughly 70 percent. And for some reason, nearly twice as many women have voted on Facebook as men. Maybe that’s because Lena Dunham has asked them to tweet pictures of the outfits they’re wearing to the polls.

In a way, this is an unofficial grassroots version of Rock the Vote, the nonpartisan organization that tried to get young people to the polls by making the democratic process seem cool. But can you actually guilt-trip someone into voting with a Thomas Jefferson quote translated into LOL-speak and a picture of a sticker? Or change someone’s mind with a grammatically incorrect, all-caps rant about a candidate? Who are these pictures for, anyway?

I can’t wait until next week, when we’ll go back to posting pictures of our lunch.

Suddath is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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