II. Mobile Voting
Five ways to make sure mobile voting works for you and your voters
By Paul McGrane, chief deputy clerk and
David Levine, elections director
Ada County, Idaho
Ada County, Idaho (which includes Boise) introduced food truck voting -- aka mobile voting -- in 2016, and it was an instant hit. Early voting records were set, and voters from across the county expressed their appreciation for the added convenience. Rather than waiting until Election Day, or trekking to city hall to vote early, voters could cast ballots before grocery shopping, after going to the library, or on their lunch breaks. But that success was not pre-ordained. Here are 5 factors to consider when weighing – and implementing -- mobile voting.
1) Check the Law
Be familiar with the polling place requirements in your jurisdiction. Is a mobile polling station permitted? If it does, what are the laws governing when and how you can use it? It’s not just election law -- if you need to be ADA compliant, you have to make sure your mobile unit meets the requirements.
2) Make sure you have access to Utilities
You need power for lighting, HVAC, and equipment. Where reliable power is not available, you have to carefully weigh the costs of alternative solutions.
If you have the money, purchasing a generator for the mobile voting unit can help ensure that it is up and running the entire time it is available to the public. If you don’t, make sure you have enough cable to reach the power source at each location you’ll be using and that the source has enough capacity. If capacity is limited, a short could occur, preventing the mobile voting unit from operating at its maximum level.
Costs can be kept down by limiting voting operations to daylight hours. Extending mobile voting unit hours into the evening can require enhanced or emergency lighting equipment, which costs money and may entail additional training. This makes places that offer lighting at night – such as shopping center parking lots –good candidates. And for your people’s sake make sure there are restrooms in the vicinity.
3) Assess the Need
More and more jurisdictions are offering early voting. In most jurisdictions, an early voter can cast his or her ballot in person, at a “normal” polling place open for early voting, or by mail. For jurisdictions that offer several ways to vote early and are compact or have many early voting locations, mobile voting may not be a high priority.
But if you offer fewer opportunities to vote early and/or have many voters that live far from early voting polling places, mobile voting can help maximize the number of citizens who successfully cast a ballot.
4) Plan and Rehearse
Carefully plan how mobile voting will be administered. Choose locations that will welcome a mobile voting unit, don’t appear to favor some candidates over others, and offer plenty of parking.
Make sure there are at least two knowledgeable election workers at the mobile station, one of whom is an experienced manager who can ensure that the process goes smoothly.
Staffing efficiency can be enhanced (and costs reduced) by having one of your poll workers double as the driver of the mobile unit. Make sure that the RV (if that’s what you use) is in good operating condition and that the first time the worker drives it is not the first day s/he is staffing it in an election.
5) Get the Word Out
Mobile voting only works if voters know about it so they can use it. As you do with all of your conventional early polling places, put out information in the press and on social media (it’s 2018) about the mobile voting unit, especially where it will be at what times on what days. In the year you first use a mobile unit you can expect extra media and public interest. Take advantage of it!
Information about where and when mobile voting is being offered, and who can do mobile voting, is critical. In Ada County, voters who can take advantage of mobile voting are continuously reminded that any eligible Ada County voter can use the mobile facility because it operates like an ordinary early voting site, and early voting sites may be used by any Ada County voter (unlike Election Day, when voters can only vote in their assigned precincts).
Implemented carefully after solid planning, mobile voting is a potential godsend for election administrators. It increases the convenience of voting, and election officials control access to it, unlike traditional polling places, where access is often controlled by someone who works in the building. It can also serve as an emergency backup – an alternate polling place if a regular location becomes inaccessible on Election Day due to a building mishap or power outage.