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Typically, voter registration campaigns involve volunteers going door to door or waiting outside shops with clipboards in hand, begging bystanders to complete legal-sized sheets of paperwork with the promise of getting more paperwork in the mail.
It's time for an upgrade, which is why the tech-savvy activists at the nonprofit Fight for the Future are rolling out a new chatbot today to handle the voter registration process.
Called Hello.Vote, it works with regular SMS texts, as well as Facebook Messenger, to ask a few quick questions and get you on your way to fulfilling your civic duty.
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Hello.Vote targets people who are more likely to engage on a smartphone than with someone on the street or in a mass mailing.
In the last presidential election, over 30 percent of eligible voters were not registered, according to census data. For citizens between the ages of 18 to 24, one of this election cycle's most important demographics, the numbers of unregistered, eligible voters are even higher.
To prompt the bot, wannabe voters can visit Hello.Vote in their browser, text 384-387, or type m.me/hellovote into the to: field in Facebook Messenger.
From there, they answer a few quick questions (I did it in two minutes) — name, address, date of birth, citizenship status and driver's license or federal ID number. It then adds your info to your state's voter registration database and asks to use the signature on file with the DMV to complete the process.
Update: If a potential voter doesn't have a driver's license or state ID, in states that require it in order to match your ID to verify your registration instantly, they'll be defaulted to the mail service Hello.Vote provides, where people will get a pre-addressed stamped envelope in the mail or email.
Importantly, it's not just for registering new voters. Hello.Vote also checks to see if you are already registered, in case you've moved or you can't remember if you finished the paperwork.
The team at Hello.Vote had to navigate all 50 states' voter registration processes to build the tool, which was no small task. Only 30 states offer online registration. Of those, they've been able to fully integrate with 15 states to make the voter process completely chatbot-friendly; for the other 15 states with online registration, Hello.Vote developers had to maneuver around captchas and login requirements.
For the 20 states that don't offer online registration, the chatbot takes your information and mails you a pre-filled-out form along with a self-addressed stamped envelope. Just sign and return.
Using a chatbot to complete tasks that people find arduous makes a lot of sense. All the big players, from Facebook to Microsoft to Google, are investing big in automated messengers that perform narrow tasks, like ordering pizza, booking a hotel or hailing an Uber — things that were never that complicated to begin with. So it's nice to see a bot do something that's actually useful — and just in time for state voter registration deadlines, too.
Hello.Vote has some pretty impressive partnerships lined up to get the word out, including MTV, General Assembly, Automattic (makers of WordPress), Presente.org, WestElm and Daily Kos.
—By April Glaser, Recode.net.
CNBC's parent NBCUniversal is an investor in Recode's parent Vox, and the companies have a content-sharing arrangement.