Mixing music and SMS to get out the vote

Advocacy group will use text-messaging campaign promoted at concerts to register young voters. Photos: Celebrating at Icon Awards

Stefanie Olsen Staff writer, CNET News
Stefanie Olsen covers technology and science.
Stefanie Olsen
2 min read
SAN FRANCISCO--Young-voter advocates plan to combine two teen passions--music and cell phones--for a one-two punch aimed at getting the vote out in 2008.

Music for America, a nonprofit advocacy for young-voter registration, will kick off a text-messaging campaign this June at concerts around the country, according to Molly Moon, the organization's 27-year-old director.

Photos: Celebrating at Icon Awards

The text-messaging campaign, called TXTVoter, will involve artists from MfA's 350 member musicians, including Green Day, Moon Zappa and Death Cab for Cutie. During performances, participating musicians will call on concertgoers with cell phones to get registered by punching in a word designated by the musicians and then sending it off using a short numerical code. Fans will receive a reply asking them to send their name and address to receive voter registration forms. They'll get an SMS (Short Message Service) reminder to vote on Election Day.

"Not all young people have access to a computer, but all of them have access to a cell phone. It really leaps the digital divide," Moon said Thursday night in San Francisco at the MfA's first Icon Awards, where it honored standout artists and donors in progressive politics.

The campaign takes a page from a global movement to harness text-messaging for political causes. For example, South African officials have used SMS to help send registration and polling information to more than 180,000 voters.

Until now, the 3-year-old MfA and its members have connected with people ranging in age from 18 to 24 through concerts, blogs and other venues. It has registered as many as 50,000 members since 2003. Through text messaging, organizers hope to register 50,000 new voters in 2006.

MfA, which is backed by donors such as technology venture capitalist Andy Rappaport, has partnered with Mobile Voter to launch the SMS campaign. has developed and tested SMS voter registration tools for the last two years. Moon would not divulge which artists will be first to urge concerts fans to register via SMS in June.

MfA's Icon Awards, where the complete Frank Zappa Vinyl and CD catalog was up for grabs at the silent auction, along with the bass guitar Krist Novoselic played during Nirvana's last concert, was held in a spacious, swanky loft in San Francisco's edgy South of Market district, where venture capitalist donors mingled easily with young hipsters and artists.

Before the awards show kicked off, the Cuban mint cocktail mojitos were the preferred drink from an open bar and Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong could be found hanging around the front door. Armstrong and his band members were honored for their political advocacy, along with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

"These are the people who are making it happen," said one attendee and donor at the party.