I. In Focus This Week
Necessity is the mother of invention
Elections bring out creative ideas to get voters registered and to the polls
By M. Mindy Moretti
With Election Day less than two months away and for many states, voter registration deadlines even closer, elections officials and advocacy groups are working hard to get voters registered and then to the polls.
This hard word often comes in the form of some creative ideas. This week, we’ll take a look at just a few of the many creative ways advocacy groups and elections offices are working this year to get out the vote.
A polling place on every corner
In Ada County, Idaho, the county elections office will be rolling out a “food truck” polling place for the first time this cycle to allow early voters to cast their ballots from a number of remote locations throughout the county.
According to Phil McGrane, chief deputy clerk, the initial idea for the mobile polling place came from the need for a back- up solution in the event of an emergency on Election Day.
“We had a lock down at a school for an hour a couple of years ago. It also happened to be a polling location. That forced us to think of back-up plans,” McGrane explained. “Once we got going, we began thinking about the other ways we could use our trailer. Now we are more focused on using it for early voting, with it as a back-up for Election Day.”
The county will be using the Hart InterCivic Verity precinct count system in the mobile polling place which is set to roll out in the coming weeks. Instead of a traditional food truck-style truck, the county’s mobile polling site will be a trailer towed by a truck.
“Initially that made the most sense. Having now seen it set up a traditional food truck might work just as well or better,” McGrane said. “The key is the combination of the trailer and the pop up tent that makes it all work.”
The county has largely relied upon end of the year savings over the past two years to make the project possible. The total cost for the full trailer to be fully equipped will be close to $60,000—a one-time expense. Operational costs will vary by election.
McGrane, said while it took some creative thinking to get the concept rolling, the elections office has ensured that they are in compliance with all of local statutes. They have also met with the secretary of state and local legislative leadership to ensure that everyone is aware of what they are doing.
Each early voting day, the mobile polling place, staffed with poll workers and a retired county director who has taken on responsibility for the mobile site will hit the streets and set up shop at some of the county’s largest employers. The county has also worked with the City of Boise to find an ideal location for the site.
“The great thing is that everyone has been really supportive of the idea,” McGrane said.
At the end of each early voting day, the trailer will return to the secure elections headquarters to ensure no has access to the ballot stock, voted ballots, or ballot scanners.
“In light of some of the issues covered nationally, we are also scheduling a penetration test with an IT security firm to test the security of the access to our voter rolls and voters registration system,” McGrane said. “One of the areas they will specifically be testing is access to anything in the trailer. It's something we've spent time addressing.”
McGrane is optimistic about the launch of the mobile voting site.
“So far the reaction has been very positive. …[W]e’ve received a few inquiries from areas even outside of Idaho,” McGrane said. “I'm hoping it will prove successful and be a model for more convenient voting in the future.
Sadly though, the Ada County mobile polling site will not be serving tacos.
“No tacos, just votes,” McGrane said. “Although, ‘Guac the Vote!’ was one of the recommended slogans to go on the trailer when we were testing design ideas.”
I want to ride my bicycle; I want to ride my bike
Denver offers drive-through ballot drop off and every election they get voters arriving by just about every mode of transportation—bikes, scooters, semis, motorcycles, fire engines, and even food trucks.
Denver B-cycle is the city’s bike sharing program that boasts thousands of members, 88 stations and 700 bikes throughout the city’s 10 central neighborhoods.
“Denver B-Cycle will provide free bike rides for voters on Election Day. Most of our Voter Service and Polling Centers offer drive-through ballot drop-off so we will have lots of voters driving, biking, trucking and scootering their ballots back to us,” said Alton Dillard, spokesman for Denver Elections. “The drive-throughs are very popular with Denver voters and we look forward to partnering with Denver B-Cycle on this effort.”
On the road again
What do Adele, Beyonce, and Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson all have in common?
All three are on tour this fall reaching out to thousands of young people.
Well, to be precise, it’s not actually Secretary Johnson, but it is staff from her office who are partaking in a 3,000-mile voter registration tour of college campuses throughout the state.
The secretary of state’s Mobile Office kicked off an 18-college campus tour on September 7 in an effort to get as many young people registered to vote by the October 11 deadline.
According to Christopher Thomas, director of elections for the secretary of state’s office Michigan is one of eight states that requires first time voters who register by mail to actually vote in person. The Mobile Branch Office — which is also used for other secretary of state services — solves that problem for college students.
“If students register by mail at their college using their home address, they may have a problem getting home on election day vote,” Thomas said. “No absentee is available to them. The Mobile Branch Office is considered an in person registration which allows the first time voter to vote absentee.”
The Mobile Branch Office, which needs a power source nearby to function, typically sets up near a high traffic area like a student union. The tour will visit 15 state colleges and universities and three private institutions.
Thomas said there is a registration goal in mind for the tour, which first kicked off in 2012, just to reach as many students as possible.
“We just want all students to know it is available and if necessary to take advantage of the registration service rather than registering by mail or with a third party registration drive, which is treated like mail,” Thomas said.
A lift to the polls
In Philadelphia and in Washington, D.C. ride sharing company Uber will be offering first-time riders a free lift to the polls — sorta.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Uber gives first-time riders a free ride up to $10. An app, VoterDrive.US built by Audience Partners will help campaigns, issue groups and other get-out-the-vote groups target voters to get them to the polls.
"It is always exciting to see organizations utilize Uber's platform and products to help move people to the places they need to be," Uber spokesman Matthew Wing told The Inquirer.
This is not the first time that Uber has offered free rides to voters. In 2012 it offered free rides — up to $20 — to first-time users and in 2015 free rides (up to $15) were offered in certain Texas cities holding elections.
No word yet on whether or not Uber may expand the program for first-time voters nationwide this year like it did in 2012.
Grab a cuppa
This election season, Democracy Works is partnering with the ultimate on-the-go company Starbucks to encourage voters to get registered and to vote.
Part of The TurboVote Challenge — an effort to get 80 percent turnout — Starbucks has redesigned their coffee sleeves to encourage coffee and tea drinkers to get involved in the democratic process.
“Now more than ever we need to elevate citizenship above partisanship in America, and working to increase voter registration and participation will help more people recognize how much their voices matter,” said Starbucks chairman and chief executive officer Howard Schultz. “In partnership with like-minded organizations, and with the modern convenience of the TurboVote tool, helping to increase voter turnout at the local and national level is yet another meaningful way to use our scale for good.”
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