Last month, a ceramic bowl held the names of two Virginia House of Delegates candidates whose race ended in a tie. Per state law, the winner was to be decided by a drawing from the cobalt-colored bowl. People across Virginia tuned into this drawing because it would decide that district’s winner and, simultaneously, break the 49-49 Republican-Democratic tie in Virginia’s House of Delegates.
While this story is widely known, an important detail is that less than half of registered Virginians in the district voted in the election. With such low turnout, presumably everyone who fulfilled his or her civic duty also knew someone who did not. If each one of these voters had held one friend accountable to vote, their small act would have tipped control of a state legislature.
Making sure your friends’ voices are heard in elections is a centerpiece of the campaign of Billings resident Lynda Moss as she seeks the Democratic nomination for Montana's lone House seat.
“In Montana, we have a tradition of 'neighboring,' lending a hand, reaching out and connecting. Our 'vote tripling' program helps Montanans neighbor on Election Day," Liz Darnell recently told me, referencing the initiative she leads for Moss.
According to Moss' website, “Vote tripling is the act of holding three friends accountable to vote.” Vote tripling focuses supporters on a bite-sized challenge they are uniquely posed to surmount: getting their closest friends to the ballot box. Through Facebook and in-person encounters, the campaign promotes its "vote tripler pledge," which involves deciding three friends they will hold accountable to vote. On Election Day, those who pledged get a text message reminding them of the three friends they plan to mobilize.
While vote tripling may appear simplistic, Menlo College professor Holly Teresi finds turnout increases by 8 percent for those who receive friend-to-friend communication about an upcoming election. According to another study by UC-San Diego professors, merely learning a friend voted significantly boosts their peers’ likelihood of casting a ballot.
As a Montanan, I hope our state's next member of Congress is decided by a high-participation election, not a ceramic bowl. As Virginia’s recent events illustrate, holding just one friend accountable to vote may decide this election — and control of an entire legislature.
Robert Reynolds is from Miles City and currently lives in Virginia. He is a board member of Moss for Congress.