RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — When first lady Michelle Obama visits North Carolina on Wednesday, she'll work to get thousands of students at N.C. Central University and East Carolina University fired up about her husband's re-election bid and to urge them to register their friends to vote.
Voter registration drives are hard work, with volunteers carrying clipboards to search for potential voters, who must fill out paper forms and sign them by hand.
Now the Obama campaign is taking voter registration to a new level of technological savvy bound to attract those just as comfortable with an iPhone as pen and paper. The campaign's nationwide voter registration web site, www.GottaRegister.com, also permits people in North Carolina, 10 other states and the District of Columbia to sign their names to a registration form remotely using their smartphone or tablet.
The technology from a California-based company lets the applicant's finger or stylus literally direct a mechanical pen at company offices that writes the person's identical signature on the voter registration form. The completed form is then mailed automatically to the elections office in the applicant's county for review. The first forms arrived in county offices this week, according to the State Board of Elections.
The so-called "wet signature" technology is another method by which the Obama campaign and other groups are complementing traditional voter registration drives in North Carolina, particularly for young people. For example, more than 63,000 young people who preregistered to vote as early as 16 years old thanks to a state law taking effect in 2010 are eligible to vote this November, according to Democracy North Carolina.
"We need a voting system that works for the 21st century electorate," said Chrissy Faessen, a spokeswoman for the youth-oriented "Rock the Vote." It is using the same technology in North Carolina and two other states with tremendous results, Faessen added.
Voter registration forms already can be found on the Internet, but North Carolina voters still have to print, sign and mail them.
The State Board of Elections and state Attorney General's Office evaluated the technology and determined it fits the requirement that a voter registration application is valid when signed by the applicant, wrote Don Wright, general counsel for the State Board of Elections.
Obama North Carolina campaign spokesman Cameron French said Tuesday most voter registration efforts still occur when campaign volunteers reach out to friends and neighbors.
Gottaregister.com and the Obama campaign's sister site, www.GottaVote.com, "are important tools that play a key role in ensuring our supporters have the opportunity to vote," in North Carolina and nationwide, French said in a statement.
The national Republican Party uses Facebook to help users walk through the voter registration process and create a printable document to mail. Republican National Committee spokesman Matt Connelly said the GOP and Mitt Romney's campaign "have a robust voter registration effort in North Carolina" as part of a broader volunteer effort that he said has exceeded campaign levels of four years ago.
The Obama campaign confirmed Tuesday that Allpoint Voter Services is providing the "wet signature" service. Allpoint spokesman Jude Barry said he expects more states will accept the technology because it provides a bridge to traditional government formats.
"You have an easy and simple user experience, and you have local registrars continuing to use their current paper-based process," Barry said. The result, he added, "is good for the voter."
Betsy Meads, a former Republican member of the Pasquotank County elections board, worries that someone using similar signature technology could collect personal information to commit fraud. "North Carolina should be protecting the voters instead of putting them at risk," she said.