UNH professor and recent graduate take voting awareness to new level

By Alyssa Taliaferro
On October 5, 2012

Eman Pahlevani was a student of Albert "Buzz" Scherr. Last spring, while he was in Scherr's Criminal Procedure class, an application development company that Pahlevani and his brother founded released a smartphone app called CrimePush.

The idea of the app was to allow those who were observing crimes as they were occurring to, with the push of a button, report the crime to the local police department. The app would also allow events to be videoed and sent to the police. UNH police has now adopted Pahlevani's app.

"Eman and I talked frequently about the app, as it was related to the class I was teaching and he was in," Scherr said.

That is only part one of the story, Scherr said.

Scherr is the president of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union. The organization's main concern is in regard to voters' rights, particularly legislation that makes it harder for people who are entitled to vote to actually vote.

As Scherr thought about Pahlevani's CrimePush app, he came up with the idea that a voters' rights version of it would be "the perfect marriage of 2 century technology with ensuring the right to vote."

Over this past summer, Scherr worked closely with Pahlevani to develop the app.

"I was responsible for the content and Eman and his company, the technology," Scherr said.

According to Scherr, the app is particularly tailored to students because they are the heaviest smartphone users and because they seem to get hassled more than other voters when they go to the polls to vote.

"Apparently, some in New Hampshire believe that students should spend money in this state on their tuition and living expenses but should vote elsewhere," Scherr said. "We disagree; in fact, the law does not require someone to have a N.H. driver's license or car registration to vote. It only requires them to be domiciled in N.H. at the time they vote, which does not require a declaration that the student intends to permanently reside in N.H."

The NHCLU recently won a case in New Hampshire stating exactly that. The organization was representing three UNH students in that litigation, according to Scherr. This case is now to appeal to the N.H. Supreme Court.

Despite the controversy has been stirred in the news about the state no longer allowing students to vote without having identification present at the polls, students appear to be on board with the goals that the new app promotes.

UNH senior and political science enthusiast Rachel Follender had an interesting point to convey in particular.

"There are many instances in which young, inexperienced voters are turned away from voting booths because they don't have everything they need in terms of proper information," Follender said. "I think college students in particular are more likely to seek information through an app on their smartphone."

Scherr has said that the app has two distinct goals: the first is to educate voters as to the documents they need to register (same-day registration is available) to vote, and that which polling officials may say they need but don't. The second is to allow voters, when at the polls trying to register or to vote, to call the Attorney General's office hotline to report a problem or to video their encounter with the polling official and email it to the NHCLU, so it can work with the Attorney General's office or others to solve the problem.

"In terms of all of the recent voter ID issues, I think it's an issue and it disenfranchises voters," Follender said. "I think the biggest groups of disenfranchised voters are poor people and minorities. However, I'm sure the issue still arises for some students, and it's important that their rights are protected and that these people are able to cast a vote."

Scherr, along with the rest of the NHLCU, view this app as a tool to empower student voters and other populations who are smart phone users and vulnerable to intimidation or hassling at the polls to resist the impulse not bother to vote or to leave if hassled.

"We're very excited about the value of the NHCLU voter app in educating students and giving them a mechanism to deal with hassles at the polls as they are happening," said Scherr.

The success of the app has exceeded the expectations of the NHCLU in a matter of three weeks.

"(The app) has 20,342 downloads as of yesterday," Scherr said. "Recently, we've been getting over 1,000 downloads a day."

Only the iPhone version has been made available at the iTunes App Store under "You Can't Stop Me: Voter App," but the organization expects the Android version to be available on Friday.

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