ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
If you are eligible to vote, but aren't registered yet, they are coming to get you. Campaigns, political parties, interest groups - they're all ramping up to register millions of potential voters and they'll be using more sophisticated tools than ever, as NPR's Pam Fessler reports.
PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Whether it's the NAACP's Marvin Randolph announcing plans to sign up 1.5 million new voters...
MARVIN RANDOLPH: Our program is broader than it's ever been before, it's deeper than it ever has been before and we're going to get numbers that are more significant than we ever have before.
FESSLER: ...or Michelle Obama addressing her husband's supporters in Ohio...
MICHELLE OBAMA: And so all of the college students out there - all of you - if you're going to be moving over the summer, remember to register at your new address in the fall. You got that? Get that done.
FESSLER: ...or the Faith and Freedom Coalition sponsoring a car at a NASCAR race with the words register to vote on the side. Groups have begun massive voter registration campaigns to influence the outcome of the November elections. The Pew Center on the States estimates there are 51 million unregistered Americans. The belief is that even a small number of them could swing the results.
HEATHER SMITH: Of everyone eligible to vote in our country, voters under 30 are a quarter of that electorate.
FESSLER: But Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote, says young people are far less likely to be registered. They move around a lot. Millions have just turned 18 and many are disillusioned with politics, so her group hopes to use new technology to sign up 1.5 million young voters.
SMITH: One of the things that we are most excited about here at Rock the Vote is this online voter registration system that we've built.
FESSLER: Because it makes registering easy and fast. Potential voters enter basic information, such as name, address and birth date.
SMITH: And then, at the end, you're going to hit submit. Five very simple steps and, when you do, it produces a PDF of your voter registration form completely filled out for you.
FESSLER: Just print it and mail it in or you can use your smartphone to scan barcodes on Rock the Vote posters, concert tickets and other merchandise to access a registration form. This also gives Rock the Vote contact information to make sure voters get on the rolls.
SMITH: Also, it allows us, as we get to Election Day, to send them a reminder that says, it's time to go vote. Here's where your polling place is, here's what ID you need to bring.
FESSLER: And young voters aren't the only target.
GARY MARX: We've built a database of people that are social conservatives, faith-based conservative voters.
FESSLER: Gary Marx is executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. His group is using demographic data to identify an estimated 17 million unregistered conservatives.
MARX: You know, we'll do things like look at who are the people that have, maybe, purchased a bible in the last 18 to 24 months. It might be somebody that we would like to talk with about making sure they're registered to vote.
FESSLER: Especially if they live in crucial swing states, like Florida or Virginia. That's why they're also targeting NASCAR fans, who tend to be conservative. Marx says it could make the difference in a close election.
MARX: That margin could be sitting in the stands when there are over 100-plus thousand screaming fans watching those cars rev around the track.
FESSLER: And there are other ambitious campaigns to sign up voters, including Hispanics, who are registered at lower rates than non-Hispanic blacks and whites.
Michael McDonald of George Mason University says registrations have generally been going up, but rolls need to be replenished because of the millions of voters who move.
MICHAEL MCDONALD: They're renters. They tend to be younger. They tend to be a little bit poorer. They tend to be a bit more of a minority.
FESSLER: They also tend to vote Democratic, which is why one party is more actively registering than the other. But McDonald says it's not just enough to get someone to fill out a form. It takes personal contact to make it matter in November.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Unintelligible) are you registered to vote?
FESSLER: One reason volunteers from the Obama campaign were at a metro stop in northern Virginia recently registering the old-fashioned way.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Are you currently registered to vote?
FESSLER: It was tough going, though. Most people were either from out of town, already registered or not interested, but for the dozen or so who did sign up...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You just sign right here just so we can keep track of...
FESSLER: ...they can be rest assured that the campaign will be checking in again and again to make sure they actually vote.
Pam Fessler, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.