The Mitt Romney bounce started in real time during the first presidential debate. In the offices of technology startup Allpoint Voter Services, Jude Barry and Michael Marubio watched the beginnings of the gathering surge for the Republican nominee play out on a computer monitor.
“We were both working and not watching the debate,” remembers company spokesman Barry. “And about 20 minutes into the debate, we noticed that Republican registrations went from flatline to hockey stick.”
This was just a snapshot of real-time voter registration, from a relatively small pool of participants. Allpoint Voter Services had the data because of its unique voter-registration product, which combines touch-screen technology with old-fashioned paper.
It works like this: Canvassers armed with an Android or Apple smartphone or tablet computer use Allpoint's website to input voter-registration information. Once the form is filled out, the registrant signs using a finger or a stylus. This signing action animates an actual autopen in Allpoint’s Oakland, Calif., headquarters. A paper form is printed out with a voter’s information, signed in ink, and mailed to a local elections board, satisfying requirements in most states for a “wet” signature. It’s worth noting that Allpoint has received opinions from elections officials around the country, including Minnesota, Nevada, and New Mexico, indicating that registrations collected with the touchscreen interface are valid.
The Obama campaign paid Allpoint $25,000 in August, according to a recent Federal Election Commission filing, and has acknowledged using the technology in North Carolina to register voters using its GottaRegister.com website. Barry won’t say where else the Obama campaign is using this technology, citing nondisclosure agreements.
Allpoint is also working with Rock the Vote, the youth-focused voter-registration and information campaign. It’s likely that the spike in Republican registrations Barry noticed during the first presidential debate came via the College Republicans, one of the few GOP organizations that uses Rock the Vote’s voter-registration interface.
Barry, a veteran Democratic political operative and formerly California director for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential bid, points out that Democratic registrations processed by Allpoint still far outnumbered Republicans, even during the debate. “There wasn’t a converse dive” in Democratic registrations, Barry said.
It’s early days for this technology. During this election cycle, Allpoint has processed about 100,000 new voter registrations nationwide, so it’s doubtful that registrations conducted via this system will have an serious impact on the outcome of the presidential race. But Barry says the early returns on the system are promising, with upwards of 70 percent of those who begin the registration process using the system winding up as registered voters. There’s also a viral component, Barry said. Once somebody signs, they can share the news of their registration on social media. “Each signer generates additional signers, as we found in our tests.”
“Voter registration is an area of politics and government that is ready for disruption,” Barry said. “Online registration is good, but mobile is better. It’s easier for the voter. And the completion rates are phenomenally higher, which is great for campaigns in particular, and for democracy in general.”
Allpoint provides campaigns with a new way to track a voter’s passage through the system, from contact with a volunteer to submitting a registration, to that registration being added to an official voter roll. This can be valuable, especially in states that don’t have party registration. “You can make some assumptions about voters based on how they registered, where they registered, and who registered them,” Barry said.