This App Targets Voters In Swing States

If you live in a swing state, brace yourself. There's a app called "Never Trump" (stylized #NeverTrump) that helps people identify contacts in swing states so they can encourage them not to vote for Donald Trump. For those who have long been in the #NeverTrump camp, this might seem like an exciting innovation; indeed, in many ways, it is. But although I'm not a Trump supporter, I'm still personally not sold on the app — and not just because it would probably flag me as a swing state voter. Not everyone wants to talk about politics with their friends, family, or other contacts — so an app that encourages people to make an unsolicited campaign pitch directly to others based on your area code feels more than a little intrusive.

The way #NeverTrump works is pretty simple: First, it scans the phone numbers in your contacts and identifies area codes that are located in swing states. Then, the app offers to message those contacts for you, or to let you send a personal message yourself. It also keeps track of your progress in making calls or sending texts to the names that come up.

This method isn't perfect; after all, in the age of cell phones, when someone doesn't get a new area code every time they move, you'll probably wind up missing a few contacts currently registered in swing states and falsely identifying former swing-staters who have moved. For instance, my area code is from Colorado, a swing state, but I no longer live there. But overall, it's probably your best bet at identifying the swing state voters in your contacts.

My first thought, though, was that Trump supporters could just as easily use the app to advocate for the Republican nominee to their swing state-dwelling friends, a danger #NeverTrump's maker, Trimian, which makes "tools for mobile professionals" according to its website, acknowledges.

Trimian CEO Amit Kumar tells Bustle in an email that defeating Trump was the primary inspiration for the app. He explains, "As with many people, Zach Coelius, my partner on this project, [and I] had been discussing how concerned we were about a potential Trump presidency. However, sitting in California, we knew that whatever we could do to mobilize voters amongst people we knew, however effective we were, would not have any tangible impact on the election results." (California has voted for the Democratic candidate in every Presidential election since 1992.)

That's where #NeverTrump comes in. Continues Kumar, "We felt that if we could put some good ol’ Silicon Valley tech to work, we could solve the age old problem — how do you find who you know whose vote could actually count, and how do you easily and quickly reach out to them?"

Kumar realizes that "regardless of branding," some people might take advantage of #NeverTrump to support the Republican nominee. Nevertheless, he still feels that getting people voting is the most important point here. "While we truly believe that the Trump presidency is going to be disastrous for the country, and that’s what we want to focus on," he says. "We also believe that if we got more people to be part of the political process, only good things can happen."

In principle, this sounds great — and indeed, I'm personally of the opinion that everyone should be involved and invested in the political process. It's why I am in favor of automatic voter registration. However, I'm not as thrilled about the prospect of a political landscape where it's considered normal or acceptable for people to target their friends and family and random people they exchanged numbers with for a group project five years ago in order to campaign to them.

In the age of the Internet, there aren't many places people can go to hide from political campaigns anymore. From the ads on TV to your friends on Facebook, there are few activities that are entirely politics-free. And this goes double for people in swing states, where efforts to reach voters can be relentless. Furthermore, whereas once everyone adopted the "mutually assured destruction" logic of politely maintaining some boundaries when it comes to politics, it seems we have now all opted to destroy ourselves and go all out on all fronts. Nothing, it seems, is off limits anymore — not even calling up your friends in swing states without warning to try to convince them why they should vote for your candidate.

To be fair, one of the #NeverTrump creators' main goals really does seem to be encouraging voter participation. Kumar's partner, Zach Coelius, ran a get-out-the-vote non-profit for many years, and the company says they are also working on an unaffiliated Get Out The Vote app. But they also believe the #NeverTrump app can encourage voter participation, too.

"[Coelius'] research," Kumar tells Bustle, "and the experience from the product [he and his non-profit] built, was that people were much more likely to vote if A) one of their friends or family members asked them to, and B) were reminded the day of, the weekend before, and three days before the election date. Which is why that is exactly what the app does."

But there are lots of ways to get out the vote that feel much less like your friends are encroaching on your personal boundaries — and much less likely to aggravate swing-state voters.

So is this the future? Apps that help individuals act like political operatives and encourage us to disregard the usual restraints on political discourse. If so, I'm not looking forward to it.

To a certain extent, the political is always personal. How could it not be when politics has such a deep and profound impact on all of our lives? But just because politics are personal doesn't mean people can't and shouldn't be able to maintain boundaries in their personal lives. We all need a space away from politics, for our own peace of mind if nothing else. But it's getting harder and harder to maintain those boundaries in the modern world. And if your friends and family are no longer satisfied to just post on Facebook but are also prepared to start contacting you via phone specifically because of your area code, then we might have to kiss those boundaries goodbye.

Images: Giphy (4)