The Dominion Institute has expanded on its previous VoxPoll SMS initiative with CanWest Global Communications Corp. to launch two new politically-themed projects. The first is a new VoxPoll around the upcoming federal elections, and will see Global National viewers polled on their views about election issues. The second is a new initiative to encourage youth to become engaged with the electoral process by giving federal political parties SMS short codes to communicate with young voters. The first initiative will see Bell Mobility, Rogers Wireless and TELUS Mobility subscribers surveyed on election issues when they read the National Post or view the Global National newscast. For the print platform, the Post will have a short code to which readers can respond to polls, and for television the same VoxPoll technology used during the Foreign Fields broadcast last fall will survey viewers in real time. Dominion Institute executive director Rudyard Griffiths says the project is another extension of SMS technology out of the entertainment and marketing applications with which SMS is often identified. "We created a whole series of tools for Global National and the National Post, which I hope are virtually idiot-proof, which allow them to script yes/no questions, a/b/c/d, questions, sliding scale questions that allow them to send the specific questions, collect the results for a certain duration, send them to different kinds of demographics…"It’s really a much more robust version of the platform that we first rolled out with the funding last fall." LIPSO will work as the aggregator on the project, compiling responses and taking care of the SMS back end. The second campaign for young voters sees The Dominion Institute working with the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) to provide SMS short codes to each of Canada’s federally registered parties to be used in their election advertising to encourage first-time voters to reach out with questions and concerns. The short codes are being donated by the CWTA and have been embraced by the Conservatives, Liberals, NDP and Green Party to date. Working with its technology partners, The Dominion Institute has created a back-end technology that allows party workers to receive and send SMS messages using an email-like application that’s web based. The program will also track ongoing discussions so that party workers can see previous correspondence they’ve had with anyone who writes. Griffiths tells RoW the program fits with the institute’s mandate to inform and educate Canadians so that they can participate in our democracy. He notes that only 22% of first-time voters in the previous election cast a ballot, but says SMS is proving an effective electoral tool in other countries, and is a perfect fit with youth, 30% of whom send one to five SMS messages every week. "I think what we’re more interested in is not just using it as a propaganda tool for parties to spam phones, but using it in, I think, a really smart Canadian way to create dialog." Griffiths notes that The Dominion Institute is able to pursue projects such as these partly because it is a charity and doesn’t have to profit from the initiative. Once the election is over, he foresees providing a short code for each and every MP in the House of Commons to maintain the momentum.