Arkansas House member to experiment with phone app in re-election bid

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

One candidate seeking re-election to the Arkansas House of Representatives is trying a relatively new way to reach out to voters in the lead up to November — a mobile app available through the Google and Amazon app stores.

Rep. David Meeks, R-Conway, said apps, which have been used in presidential campaigns and some other large out of state races in recent years, were just another way to reach out to voters.

"An app is something that's been around, but for whatever reason, it's not really been used."

He said the use of an app comes down to "convenience."

“Everything is just right there. They don't have to go…basically it's just ease of use. They won't have to use two different apps – not a Twitter app and Facebook. It's just a single button. It's about simplicity more than anything else,” Meeks explained about his app.

The app features sections similar to a campaign website — issues, legislative actions, photos, videos, contact information and social media links.

Skot Covert, director of digital media at Impact Management Group, said the use of apps is a trend that's been on the uptick for the last four to eight years, since the advent of the smart phone. He said more campaigns, especially on the local level versus the national or statewide level, are starting to make use of app technology due to drops in price for development.

"You see a lot of campaigns that are now able to get their foot in the door with an app because the prices have gone down so much," he said. "They can purchase an app (for a good price). Back when smart phones were coming on the market, the costs to develop an app were significant. It's now cost effective to do it. You're seeing a lot of people like (David) Meeks taking those tools and using them in their campaigns."

Meeks said he is trying to reach voters in his district, which includes the city of Conway and rural parts of Faulkner and Perry Counties, using the technology that is right at their finger tips.

"Conway is technology oriented (with several colleges and technology companies). So I think it's a good idea. It's just another tool to be able to reach out to voters, even out in rural areas, where there's good cell phone coverage. And a good portion of my (constituents) have smart phones. Even if they don't, there is a way to access the app by just going to the internet."

Covert said while Meeks and other candidates may try to use app technology to reach new voters, many candidates who have used apps in past campaigns have found the technology to be a good way to engage volunteers through push alerts and engagement with the app.

"I don't know if it reaches new voters, but if you have a volunteer base of 50 people that are committed to seeing you elected or re-elected, you are able to arm them with talking points you want them discussing within your community. Something as simple as push notifications can have a great affect on your get out the vote operations. You want to make sure on election day, they don't forget to vote,” Covert said.

He said the use of apps in addition to social media, which he admits can at times feel like an "echo chamber" of politicos and journalists, can really make a difference

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"We do live in this echo chamber, but with tools like this it allows you to equip your die hard supporters with the tools they need to effectively communicate your campaign's message."

As for the future use of the app, Meeks said he'll experiment with it and see what comes of it. So far, he's had 19 individuals download the app. And while it is only available in the Google and Amazon app stores, he's got his eyes set on Apple. Meeks said he is just looking to see how the app works for him during the 2014 election.

"I'm fine being the guinea pig and trying it out. I talked to other candidates and they thought it was intriguing. Hopefully it catches on as another tool to keep up with constituents and voters."

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