Your Facebook profile doesn’t have boxes to check which political party you belong to or whether you voted in the last election. But political organizations who already know that can now deliver Facebook ads to fit your political preferences. At least two statewide campaigns during the past year have used the new tool, “Custom Managed Audiences,” to reach Facebook users who are registered voters or political supporters. Facebook says Terry McAuliffe’s election as Virginia governor in 2013 and this year’s re-election effort of John Cornyn, a Texas Republican senator, are examples of successful user targeting via voter lists. The company first introduced the tool in February 2013 and recently upgraded its capabilities. Linking the two isolated sets of data and teasing out information on voter preferences and opinions is a new front in microtargeting. Even smaller campaigns could use the technique to sway small but crucial sets of voters with very specific messages. Facebook’s most notable achievement may be that it makes some of the sophisticated approaches used during the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns affordable to other kinds of political contests.
Republicans and Democrats in the Senate argued bitterly Wednesday about the need for a new law to protect the voting rights of minorities. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on proposed legislation to resuscitate a critical provision of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court a year ago. The court invalidated the system whereby most Southern states were required to clear changes to their voting laws in advance with the Justice Department. The new bill would attempt to get around the court’s objections by creating a new system in which any state with more than five voting rights violations in the previous 15 years would have to seek “pre-clearance.” Currently only Texas, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana would be covered, which provoked outrage from Texas’ two senators, who both sit on the committee. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) asked why only four states would be covered, and not others such as Minnesota, which is represented on the committee by two Democrats. “Every state is covered by this if they violate the law five times in 15 years,” replied Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn).
The U.S. Senate Rules Committee has passed a bill aimed at strengthening voting protections for military members. The Safeguarding Elections for our Nation’s Troops through Reforms and Improvements (SENTRI) Act is co-sponsored by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Upon its passage out of committee this week, Senator Cornyn released a statement urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to “immediately” bring the bill before the full Senate. “The 2012 election made clear that there are still too many barriers to military service members and their families having their votes counted,” Cornyn wrote in his statement. “These brave men and women put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe, and the least we can do is ensure that everything possible is being done to safeguard their voting rights.”