Facebook changing the political dynamic?

apathyisboringFacebook won its first election last month?

Vanessa Sievers, a 20-year old Dartmouth undergraduate from Montana, claims that $50 and all her Facebook connections catapulted her to victory in the race for Treasurer in mostly rural Grafton County, NH. Some call it less of a fight in the jungle than an ambush in the forest. The incumbent Treasurer misjudged how Facebook, in the wake of low voter turnout for such a race, could upend the result.

Sievers used her $51 to purchase a Facebook ad to mobilize students at Plymouth State College and Dartmouth University, narrowly upsetting an incumbent Treasurer (Carol Elliott) with decades of political experience. Sievers bested Elliott by 586 votes across the county, and in Hanover Sievers won by 2,438 votes (almost exactly the number of Dartmouth students who voted there).

Ironically, the fix to this problem is more people caring and voting.  In communities where voting in local races has dropped precipitously, it leaves candidates far more exposes to a smaller number of votes influencing the election.  College student votes normally could not have turned this election unless lots of adults didn’t vote.  But in an era where in many communities the League of Woman Voters is not as active as it once was, it may be that Facebook candidacies have an easier way of reaching potential voters than ones using older technologies (coffees at neighbors’ houses or standing on street corners).

“The talk around here [Grafton County] is how the young woman — a ‘teenybopper,’ in the words of Ms. Elliott, who was not amused at her fate or at the furies unleashed on Facebook — hijacked a centuries-old process to inherit a part-time job that pays only $6,408 annually but has serious, adult responsibilities, like investing around $17 million when property-tax revenues pour in and sometimes borrowing millions during the course of a year.

Vanessa Sievers, Grafton County Treasurer-elect

Vanessa Sievers, Grafton County Treasurer-elect

Indeed, Dartmouth College folklore, a rich vein even in non-election years, includes lurid and almost surely apocryphal tales of students storming into local politics, taking over the process and producing such landmark legislation as the mandate to pave a road from Hanover directly to South Hadley and Northampton, Mass., the homes, respectively, of Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges. These were tales of Dartmouth boys being boys and of (cooped-up) boys chasing girls.

…[Sievers’] resume includes being the co- chair of the college’s Bait and Bullet Club and…[her] political profile includes ardent support for hunting…. A member of the Democratic National Committee Youth Council, she is a symbol — and so is the reaction of some of her opponents to her election. Ms. Elliott…told John P. Gregg of the Valley News newspaper that the college students who voted for her opponent were ‘brainwashed.’

“She [Sievers] used technology that caught older people by surprise,” said Michael Hais, a retired vice president of the Frank N. Magid Associates communications research firm and the co-author, with Morley Winograd, of Millennial Makeover, a book outlining the political potential of Ms. Sievers and her Millennial generation. “This symbolizes a generational conflict that may not be as shrill as the one in the 1960s but may be just as important….”

Some of the first stirrings of this [the new dynamics of an Internet-based campaign[ became apparent two years ago when Andrew Edwards and Jeffrey Fontas, both 19 at the time, mounted campaigns for the New Hampshire Legislature from Nashua, in the southern part of the state. This year more advanced versions of the strategy were unveiled in the national presidential campaign, here in Grafton County in the county treasurer race and now in Israel, where the campaign of Benjamin Netanyahu for prime minister has virtually replicated the look of Mr. Obama’s Web site and is seeking to harness the power of social-network communications.

Eliot has fired back; she now asserts that students who live in another state shouldn’t be able to vote in county contests, since they don’t have enough connection with ensuring that local government works. The political-comedy Internet site 24/6, noted: “At a time when the country is in crisis and the world is mere weeks away from a sweeping revolution in American politics, the last thing we need is young people ‘getting involved’ and bringing ‘fresh ideas’ to the table.”

See “The Facebook revolution: Online social networking didn’t just bring young people into politics, it brought them into power“(Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 11/30/08), from whom these quotes are taken.  NYT article on Sievers’ election here.

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2 responses to “Facebook changing the political dynamic?

  1. This was not about Facebook but about NH’s corrupt election system that has now caused the people of Grafton to have to suffer with a Montana resident as their treasurer. It is ILLEGAL and she WILL be taken to court over her illegal run.

  2. Two years have gone by since this fluke election. Sievers missed 50% of the board meetings that she was supposed to attend. She did not have the first clue on how to invest the county’s money AND she couldn’t even show up to sign the county’s checks–keeping people from getting paid. She was a horrible county treasurer and she was washed right back out in the next election, proving that the complaints about her right after the election were correct. She was a luck idiot who won one election then she got her ass handed to her in the next–as it should have been. I don’t agree that she should have never been county treasurer, she sent a clear signal to the old lady that she beat; however, the old lady woke her ass back up, worked hard and came back and ran the incompetent boob right back out of the office. Democracy worked. It does every time it is tried. The technology that brought Miss Sievers in office was the same technology that ran her out. She couldn’t make it to her job, but she had time to post pictures of herself and her boyfriend in their swimming trunks. It was unbelievable. She is and was a loser who won one round, but she is down for the count. The way that she behaved once she got the chance at office sealed her career. She will move back to Montana and live obscurity.

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