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Jude Barry (left) and Michael Marubio (Handout photo)

Phoning it in

Technology | Obama campaign quietly promotes remote voter registration in Nevada

Issue: "2012 Cities Issue," March 10, 2012

With little fanfare or media coverage, the Obama campaign is promoting a new method of voter registration for Nevada residents while it wrestles with a drop in registration among the swing state's young adults. A page on the Obama for America website explains how Nevadans can register merely using an app on a smartphone, iPad, or similar device: "When you sign using your touch screen, you'll be controlling the movements of an actual pen that will place your signature on your printed voter registration form for you." In other words, a mechanical pen at another location copies your digital signature.

Scott Gilles, the Deputy Secretary of Elections in Nevada, said the technology is legally acceptable there. "The system that's being implemented is going to result in our county clerks receiving a voter registration form with a wet signature on it," he told the blog TechPresident. "They're not going to be able to verify how that signature was produced."

Verafirma, a California-based company, is promoting the technology, owned by a little-known startup called Allpoint Voter Services. Verafirma pioneered another mobile voter registration system in California in 2010, which submitted to state voting officials encrypted digital signatures that residents had written onto iPhones. (The company also used its technology to collect digital signatures for petitions to legalize gay marriage and marijuana in the state.)

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A new study from the Pew Center on the States estimates one in four eligible Americans is not registered to vote. Voters between the ages of 18 and 24 were important to President Obama's victory in 2008: Although young adults comprised 11 percent of Nevada's registered voters four years ago, the proportion had declined to an unenthusiastic 8 percent last October.

Computer smarts

Associated Press photo by Martin Mejia

Do computers improve kids' education? Since 2007, the One Laptop per Child initiative has provided over 2.5 million rugged, inexpensive laptops to school kids and teachers in over 40 nations on the assumption that they do, but a report by the technology news website Ars Technica calls that assumption into question.

Officials in Uruguay partnered with One Laptop per Child to supply every elementary student in the nation with a computer (half a million devices so far). Yet government surveys showed that only 55 percent of teachers use them "for pedagogical purposes," and most felt they had inadequate training to effectively use the laptops. What's more, 23 percent of the devices were broken as of May 2011.

The news from Peru, where the initiative has distributed 900,000 laptops, is equally troubling: Many teachers were frustrated because it sometimes took up to 30 minutes-a sizable slice of potential teaching time-just to set up the computers for all their students, who might have forgotten to bring them, run the batteries dead, or broken them, in spite of their advertised durability.

In Maine, where a separate, state program has provided Apple notebook computers to all middle-school students since 2002, teachers claimed the computers helped them teach more efficiently and improved student learning. However, program director Jeff Mao said there wasn't enough statistical information to link education improvements directly to the laptops: "It's the teaching and learning practices that really make the change." - Daniel James Devine

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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