How can “smart cities” serve to connect citizens and government? We utilize an increasingly common stimulus in urban life — large electronic kiosks with advertisement screens — to test the way that one type of smart city technology can be used to encourage civic behavior. We partner with LinkNYC, which operates the high definition displays and tablets on these kiosks in New York City, to conduct a field experiment to stimulate voter registration. We block-randomize groups of screens to show one of two appeals directing people to an electronic voter registration page on tablets attached to these kiosks — either a geographically-targeted neighborhood appeal, or a dynamic urgency appeal — or no appeal at all. Both appeals increased rates of engagement with a TurboVote application on LinkNYC kiosks. However, administrative hurdles likely prevented many users from completing registration online, a finding that highlights the importance of recognizing bureaucratic constraints when introducing new technologies designed to bridge the digital divide.
Melissa Sands is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at UC Merced.