While it’s a drop in the bucket in numbers, this election cycle has seen one science-fiction like innovation in an area that might seem dry as dust, yet holds significance for the future of voter engagement: Voter registration. This year, more than 100,000 people have used remote-controlled pens over the Internet to sign and complete their voter-registration forms. President Obama’s re-election campaign and Rock the Vote have both used the new service from the five-person startup Allpoint Voter Services in Oakland, Calif. The Obama campaign made the service available through its GottaRegister.com Web site to voters in North Carolina, 10 other states and the District of Columbia. Campaign finance records show that the campaign spent almost $43,000 from August through last week to use the service. Allpoint provided the service to Rock the Vote for free so that they could prove that the model works and can scale, says company spokesman Jude Barry. He claims that the system could potentially process a million voter registration forms a month.
For now, the total number is a fraction of that, yet it’s been used in all 50 states, he says. The system works by capturing the motion of an individual’s signature on a filled-out voter registration form online through a tablet device. Allpoint’s system transmits the captured data from the motion of the signature and sends that information over the internet to a pen, which then renders the individual’s signature in ink on a paper voter registration form in Allpoint’s offices in Oakland. The staff then mail those forms off to the relevant local elections boards within 72 hours. Allpoint uses federal voter registration forms, which all states are bound by law to accept. Allpoint has received written opinions on the acceptability of the forms and their wet signatures from the District of Columbia, Cook County, Ill., Minnesota, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Santa Clara County in California and Washington State. So far, no election authorities have challenged the validity of any of the submitted voter registration forms in any other jurisdiction, Barry says.